This article is a follow-up to my article in the last issue on Rev 21:8. Some pastors and theologians use Rev 21:8 and 22:15 to try and prove that all “true” Christians persevere in the faith. In my previous article I showed that Rev 21:8 does not support that view. In this article I will show the same things regarding Rev 22:15.
Rewards for Faithful Believers (v 14)
Verse 14 of Revelation 22 reads, “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.”
In light of the context, it is obvious that believers are in view here. However, it is a mistake to conclude that all believers are meant. Not all believers can be described as “those who do His commandments.” Jesus did not take it for granted that even the Apostles would obey Him! He said to them, “If you love Me, keep my commandments” John 14:15), and, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). Similarly, in Revelation chapters 2-3 the Lord makes it clear that being a victorious overcoming believer is not guaranteed (see, for example, 2:2-7, 10, 25-28; 3:11-12).
Two things are promised to the one who obeys the Lord as a characteristic pattern of life (no one obeys perfectly, cf. 1 John 1:8, 10): (1) the right to the tree of life and (2) the right to enter into the New Jerusalem through its gates. At first reading these may seem to be things which are true of all believers. However, that is not the case.
What is “the right to the tree of life”? It is the right to eat its fruits. Compare Rev 2:7, “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life.”
Keep in mind that nothing is required for an eternally-secure person to remain saved. It is ridiculous to think that believers will need to eat fruit from the tree of life to retain their spiritual life.
What then is to be gained by eating this fruit? On the one hand, this fruit will be a wonderful delicacy which will be a delight to eat. On the other hand, the tree is called “the tree of life” for a reason. It will evidently grant to the believer who eats of it a special abundance of life. Today when we eat foods that are good for us we feel especially energized and encouraged. This will certainly be true of the food from the tree of life!
It is true, of course, that the tree of life was in the Garden of Eden as well. However, its fruit would not have had the same effect on fallen people with ungloried bodies as it will have in eternity on saints with glorified bodies. The tree of life will only grant abundant life to those with glorified bodies. According to Gen 3:22 the reason God removed Adam from the garden was “lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life and live forever.” Had he eaten that fruit Adam would have lived forever in a state of separation from God (spiritual death). of course, since the tree of life was never intended for that terrible purpose, God took it away from man until the eternal kingdom.
The second reward to the obedient believer is the right to enter the New Jerusalem by its gates. Several things must be born in mind here. For one thing, most likely all believers will be going in and out of the New Jerusalem from time to time. Some believers in eternity will have their primary dwelling in the New Jerusalem. Surely those people will sometimes venture outside its walls, visit the rest of the new earth, and return. And, many saints will not live in the New Jerusalem! According to Rev 21:24 the new earth will contain many nations and the kings of those nations will travel to the New Jerusalem to take tribute to the King of kings. It is likely that all who live in these nations will make trips to the New Jerusalem.
For another thing, the gates will not be the only way by which someone could enter the city. For example, people might travel by air, flying over the walls. Or, they might come in on a subway, going under the walls. It is even conceivable in light of John 20 that people might travel right through the walls!
Finally, we know from the OT that the gates of ancient cities were places of honor. The respected elders of the community were allowed to sit in the gates and it was from there that they rendered judgments in legal matters (cf. Gen 19:1; 22:17; Deut 22:15; 25:7; Ruth 4:1-12).
Thus being able to eat of the tree of life and to enter the New Jerusalem by its gates will be rewards reserved solely for believers who were victorious in their experience in this life.
Exclusion for All Unbelievers (v 15)
Verse 15 says, “But outside are the dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.”
While the word outside might sound like it refers to those outside the New Jerusalem but yet still on the new earth, that is clearly not the case. The Lord is speaking of those who are entirely outside the kingdom.
Three lines of evidence suggest this interpretation. First, there will be no sinners in the eternal kingdom. None. Verse 15 is describing the condition of people at that time, not their experience in this life. No believer with a glorified body could be described as being a dog, a sorcerer, a sexually immoral person, a murderer, an idolater, or a liar. While those things were true of giants of the faith like David (2 Samuel) and Solomon (1 Kings 11) in their experiences prior to death, they could never be true of saints with glorified bodies.
Second, Rev 21:27 says that only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will enter “it.” The word it there most naturally refers to the kingdom since there will be no oneanywhere on the New Earth whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. All such people will be in the lake of fire (cf. Rev 20:15).
Third, Rev 21:8 refers to many of the same sins as mentioned in Rev 22:15 (i.e., murderers, sexually immoral, idolaters, and liars) and it clearly assigns the fate of people so designated as “the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Unbelievers will forever remain unjustified sinners who are forever excluded from God’s kingdom.
Inclusion for All Who Believe (v 17)
Verse 17 reads, “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirst come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
Here once again is the free offer of eternal life. In the closing verses of the NT we find another free offer of the water of life. No strings are attached.
Not only is there no reason to interpret v. 15 as teaching that all “true” believers will persevere, but such an interpretation is directly contradicted by v. 17. Eternal life is free!
Revelation 22:15 in no way proves that all Christians live obedient, victorious lives. Neither does it prove that no Christian will be a murderer or a liar or an adulterer. It doesn’t have anything to do with those issues at all. What it is saying is that the kingdom will contain no sinners. As John says, “When He is revealed, [then] we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2). Amen! “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).