Anyone who has worn glasses knows that looking through the right lens can make all the difference. This became a personal reality for me more than 15 years ago. I had been suspicious that something was wrong with my vision for quite some time but, like many, had done nothing about it.
I would squint subconsciously, trying to make my eyes see things as they should. I would wave at complete strangers, assuming (till they came closer) that they were friends.
My “moment of clarity,” though, happened one evening when I was at home with my family. Our son, Samuel—just a baby—was sitting across the room with my wife, Teri. For some reason, I jokingly put on Teri’s glasses. At that moment, it was like the world came alive. I couldn’t believe people could see this clearly. One week later, I had my first pair of glasses. The world has been a clearer place ever since.
What is true with our physical sight also applies to our perspective on life. In light of that, I want to examine Revelation 22:1-5—a passage that can serve as a corrective lens, helping us see our everyday lives much more clearly.
The future God has promised | Revelation 22:1-5
We see our lives correctly if we look through the lens of the future that God has promised.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”
Few passages in Scripture present a more compelling, winsome picture of the future God has promised to believers. In this passage, we see a picture of forever that addresses our deepest desires.
The river of the water of life
The passage begins with the vision of what the new heavens and new earth will look like. In the center of this picture there is a river, called “the river of the water of life.” This is a reference to Ezekiel 47:12. The river is said to be “clear as crystal,” a reference to holiness and purity. It flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Likewise, there is a tree standing on each side of the river (also from Ezekiel 47), always bearing fruit, with leaves that are for “the healing of the nations.”
Together these two things, the river and the tree, represent the fully alive, fully restored world we are promised in eternity. They point to a perfect place, where people and nations have become whole. A place that is free from disease, sickness, starvation, pollution and decay. How different this is from the broken world in which we live right now.
No longer will there be any curse
Central in the Bible and confirmed in our own experience is the idea that all humanity and all of creation have been cursed because of our sin. The world is broken; life is a mess. People die, work is hard, marriages fail, life is bitter. All these things give us a feeling of insecurity. We lock our doors, guard our wealth, cling to our possessions and fight decay everywhere. But it is an uphill, losing battle.
The death and decay are a result of that curse. This passage, however, makes the striking promise that in our future, the curse will have been completely removed. Eternity is pictured as a place absolutely and utterly void of decay, of death, of insecurity.
Imagine a world where doors would be forever and always unlocked, possessions unguarded. A place where concerns of career, success and provision would simply be no more.
His presence, face and name
This Revelation 22 picture of our future is noteworthy not simply for the curse that is absent, but rather much more for the One who is present. The focus of the passage moves, in verse 3, from the wholeness of the place to the centrality of God Himself. We are told that God’s throne, instead of being far off, will now be in the very center of the city. We will no longer see Him from far way, but rather up close.
The passage says that we will “see His face,” which means seeing Him as He truly is and being in a right relationship with Him. In the Old Testament (Exodus 33), Moses asked God if he could see His glory. God responded by saying, “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, the Lord, in your presence. . . . But you cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live.”
The New Testament says that Jesus has truly shown us who God is, and yet because of our sin and the brokenness of this world, we can still only experience Him partially. But in the future, we will finally see Him fully and know His beauty fully.
This passage goes further, to say that we will be marked with His name. It will be written on our foreheads. This may sound strange, but what the Bible is saying is that we will be a people belonging to God. His name on our foreheads means we belong to Him; we will have the status of being His children. We will be under His protection.
Taken together, these three things (His presence, seeing His face and being marked with His name) signify an absolutely perfect, whole, unhindered relationship with and experience of God that will be so complete it is nearly impossible to exaggerate.
There will be no more night
Another aspect of the future we are promised is that it will be entirely free from the effects of sin. No longer will things like shame, deceit, pain or impurity mark the world. The impact of sin will be utterly absent. Put another way, there will no longer be reason to fear. This is because, as the passage says, God will light the whole place up. He will be bright, His glory no longer like a candle far off in the distance, His presence always with us.
And they will reign for ever and ever
The final word on this promised future is that it will last not for only a day or a week, or even for a lifetime. Rather, it will last forever.
Seeing the present through the lens of the future
According to Revelation 22:1-5, our forever with God is a place where the impact of sin will disappear and the light of God will shine unhindered into every nook, crack and crevasse. This is the vision of the future that God has given to those who hope in Christ. And so, now comes the question that has the potential to clarify and refocus the ups and downs of life:
What do our present lives look like if we see them through the lens of the future God has promised us?
Here we are blessed, for the biblical authors often take time to interpret the things of this present life in light of the future God has promised.
Trouble and suffering through the lens of the future (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Trouble and suffering are universal—having an impact on both rich and poor, old and young, those of all nationalities, backgrounds and cultures. Reflecting on the difficulties of life, the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
So how does the lens of the future change what we see when we look at our trouble and suffering?
First, we must admit that looking through the Revelation 22 lens does not make the difficulties of life simply disappear. They are still painful, still challenging and often still heartbreaking. Yet, when seen in contrast with the vast, wonderful permanence of our unseen but guaranteed future, Paul promises that they will begin to look “light and momentary.”
When viewed like this, troubles truly are fleeting and will soon pass. And far from being meaningless, they are somehow achieving for us “an eternal glory that far outweighs them.”
How trouble and suffering could achieve such a glory is hard to comprehend on this side of eternity. But like the one who boards a plane without even a cursory understanding of the physics of flight, we can trust when the Bible promises that these things will work together for good, calling us to turn our eyes heavenward and take God at His Word.
Our sin through the lens of the future (2 Peter 3:13-14)
Through the lens of eternity, not only do the difficulties of life look different but also our own struggle with sin is changed. Consider how Peter, speaking of the return of Jesus, says that the promises of a new heaven and new earth should change our perspective on our own sin:
“But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”
Instead of rationalizing sin, indulging it, accepting it or being crushed over the shame of it, those of us who look at our sin in light of eternity will purify ourselves. We will fight sin, will make every effort to battle it.
And we will remember: A day is coming when our sin will be no more, our hearts will be completely pure, and our desires will be absolutely whole, right and good.
Our present experience of God through the lens of the future (1 Corinthians 13:9-12)
One of the hardest things about this life, in my opinion, is the distance we still have between God and us. We read His Word and are blessed to know much about Him. We pray, but we must admit that, outside of Scripture, we rarely hear His voice with certainty. We can’t see Him, even though this world screams that He is there. We see His work in our lives, but often not with great clarity. Most of us would say that we have days or even weeks when we just can’t feel His presence.
In this picture of the future, we are reminded that a day is coming when God will be fully present with us. Prayer will be face-to-face; worship, likewise, face-to-face. Paul puts it like this in 1 Corinthians:
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Revelation 22:1-5 is a picture of that day when our veiled experience of God and His kingdom will end and we will be face-to-face forever.
Wealth and success in this life through the lens of the future (Matthew 6:19-21)
A final area I would like to look at through this “future lens” is that of wealth and success. Many of us have experienced quite a bit of both. And wealth can be a good thing, as can earthly success. If we are going to maintain a healthy perspective, however, we must consistently view both through the lens of forever. Consider the words of Jesus:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Wealth and success, while desirable in this life, are fleeting and will eventually fade or be taken away. Not so with the promised future that God has in store for those who have become His children through faith in Jesus.
I began this article with a story about when I first got glasses. I thought I was seeing everything fine, but then I discovered just how out of focus my vision was. The same is true, I believe, of our perspective on life.
When we look at life without eternity in mind, we see it wrongly. We can see our lives and this world correctly only if we will look through the lens of the future that God has promised (and will deliver) to all who trust in Christ.
Recommended reading: The Pilgrim’s Progress: From this world to that which is to come, by John Bunyan; Heaven, by Randy Alcorn; and A Better Country: Preparing for heaven, by Dan Schaeffer