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.
Throughout the book of Revelation, John’s vision often includes the “nations,” that is, the Gentile (non-Jewish) nations throughout the earth. In some passages, the nations are pictured as drunk with sin (18:3, 23) and therefore subject to the judgment of God (19:15). Yet, in the closing chapters of Revelation, the nations are included in the picture of God’s new heaven and new earth. In 21:24, for example, the nations will walk by the light that emanates from God. In 21:26, the “glory and honor” of the nations will be brought into the New Jerusalem as an act of worship.
Those of us who know and serve God can, in some small and incomplete measure, extend the healing of God into our world. We can act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God in the place to which God has sent us as his royal agents.
Revelation 22 adds another eschatological benefit for the nations. As you may recall, the beginning of this chapter depicts a river of life that flows from the throne of God. As it runs through the heavenly city, it nourishes the tree of life that produces an extraordinary amount of fruit. Moreover, the leaves of the tree of life are useful as well. They are “for the healing of the nations” (22:2).
First-century readers of Revelation would not be surprised by this particular use of leaves. In fact, in the ancient world leaves were frequently used for medicinal purposes. Olive leaves, for example, helped to heal the skin and reduce fevers (see Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, Flora: Olive). In his vision of the eschatological temple, Ezekiel saw a great river flowing out into the wilderness of Israel. The abundant fruit trees that grew alongside this river had leaves that did not wither and were used “for healing” (Ezek 47:12).
John’s vision is similar to that of Ezekiel, with one crucial difference. In the New Jerusalem, the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations, not just Israel. John does not explain exactly what this means. Some commentators suggest it is a metaphor for the conversion of the nations. Others are not convinced. But, no matter the specifics, it is clear that in the new earth, healing that finds its origin in God will be granted, not just to a select few, but to the nations as well.
In his commentary on Revelation, Tom Wright adds this insight on the healing leaves: “The new Jerusalem, too, it seems, is in a sense a project, not a tableau. God establishes the city of his presence in order that the nations may not only come to do homage but may be healed. The city is to be priestly, gathering up the praises of the rest of creation, and royal, the source of that healing, wise order through which God’s rule is to be established.” In other words, the healing of the nations is a metaphor, not only for their conversion, but also for their flourishing under God’s reign.
I find this aspect of John’s vision to be especially encouraging in a day when the nations of this world are desperately in need of divine healing, of being ordered according to God’s justice and peace. To be sure, the illness of some nations, North Korea, for example, is particularly obvious and grievous. But as I watch the political drama in the United States, I yearn for the healing of my own nation as well. Revelation shows us that national healing will come in God’s glorious future. In the meanwhile, those of us who know and serve him can, in some small but significant measure, extend the healing of God into our world. We can act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God in the place to which God has sent us as his royal agents (see Mic 6:8). We can also share with others the confident hope that, one day, God will heal the nations and his kingdom will fill the earth.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
When you read the phrase “the healing of the nations,” what comes to mind? In what ways do the nations need to be healed?
To what extent are you able to extend the healing, justice, righteousness, and peace of God into the world today, in anticipation of God’s future?
How might the vision of Revelation 22 affect the way you pray when saying this line of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Gracious God, how our hearts yearn for the healing of the nations. The nations of our world are so filled with injustice and violence. They are in desperate need of your peace.
Thank you for the vision of Revelation 22 with its picture of the healing of the nations. Thank you for giving us hope that, someday, you will bring all things right as your kingdom covers the earth.
In the meanwhile, Lord, may we seek to bring your healing and wholeness to the parts of the world to which you have sent us. May we be faithful agents of your justice, righteousness, and peace. May our leadership reflect your ways in all we do. Amen.