“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.” Revelation 22:14
In our verse-by-verse study of the book of Revelation, we discovered an important connection between the worship of God and eternal rewards. John explained that we can enhance our worship of God (22:10) throughout eternity by earning eternal rewards during our time on earth (22:12-14).
Right after promising to return soon and reward His people according to their work (22:12), the Lord Jesus then provides assurance that He can be trusted to fulfill those promises based on Who He is. Christ said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:13). Jesus shares titles to remind us He is more than able to fulfill His promises in verse 12. “The Alpha and Omega” are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Bible teacher John MacArthur states, “An alphabet is an ingenious way to store and communicate knowledge. The 26 letters in the English alphabet, arranged in almost endless combinations, can hold and convey all knowledge. Christ is the supreme, sovereign alphabet.” 1 No one is more qualified than Jesus Christ to judge and reward people according to their work. He is the source of all truth, and He knows everything about us including our thoughts, words, actions, and motives. He knows best what rewards will motivate us to live for Him.
As “the First and the Last,” Jesus is the cause and goal of history. 2 Christ is the eternal God Who is in control of our past, present, and future. His comprehensive control over all things – including the time of His return and the giving of rewards (22:12; cf. 21:6) – makes it possible for Him to fulfill His promises in verse 12. His eternal nature guarantees He will continue to exist after the present creation is destroyed 3 by fire (cf. 22:1; 2 Peter 3:10-13) so that His promises of eternal rewards can be trusted.
The Lord Jesus is the Originator (“the Beginning”) and Terminator (“the End”) of all things, 4 and therefore He can be trusted to finish what He starts. 5
Christ then shares two eternal rewards that are reserved for overcoming believers. “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.” (Revelation 22:14). The majority of Greek manuscripts contain the phrase “do His commandments” in place of the phrase, “wash their robes.”
Only those believers whose lives are characterized by obedience to Christ to the end of their lives (cf. 2:10, 25-27) will “have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through” one of the main “gates into the city.”
“There is a connection between the ‘tree of life’ and man’s rule over the earth. Adam in his unfallen state had access to this ‘tree,’ but when he fell, God kept him from it (Genesis 1:26-28; 3:22).” 6 The tree of life will be “in the midst of the Paradise of God” in the New Jerusalem (cf. 2:7; 22:2, 14a).
“This reward is reminiscent of the original paradise in Genesis 1– 2 where Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from any tree in the Garden, including the tree of life. At the end of the Book of Revelation, the tree of life is described as bearing twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month, with leaves that bring healing to the nations (22:2). Not everyone has the right to eat from the tree of life (22:14). A person can forfeit the right to eat from the tree by adding to or taking away from the words of Revelation (22:19). Aside from this, little is known about the tree of life, but its vagueness makes this reward even more tantalizing and motivating.” 7
People love to eat! I enjoy eating food every chance I get! “From the beginning God intended people to enjoy food. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, mankind would have forever eaten from the foods God provided. While many of us don’t think of food in the life to come, we should.
“At the Last Supper the Lord Jesus indicated He wouldn’t drink of the fruit of the vine with His disciples again until He came in His kingdom. That means, of course, that He and they will enjoy drinking wine together in the kingdom.
“After the Lord rose from the dead, He ate some fish and honey in the presence of His disciples (Luke 24:41-43). He also prepared fish for them and possibly shared that meal as well (John 21:9-15). Food will not be foreign to saints with glorified bodies. Surely all will eat, but some will enjoy special delicacies reserved only for persevering saints.” 8
The Lord Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him till the end of our Christian lives on earth. Christ promises the faithful believer access to “the tree of life” in the New Jerusalem in the future (22:14a; cf. 2:7). Eating the fruit from the tree of life may give faithful believers the resources to rule more effectively on the new earth (Revelation 2:7, 25-27).
Only those believers “who do His commandments” in this lifewill be able to “enter through the” main “gates into the city” of the New Jerusalem in the life to come (22:14b). The emphasis of verse 14 is not on entering the city, but on entering by “the gates” into the city. Every believer can enter the city (Revelation 21:27b), but only faithful believers will “have the honor and privilege of entering the New Jerusalem through the main gates (surely there will be other, possibly smaller, gates through which the others will enter).” 9
This is emphatic in the Greek text which literally says, “and by the gates they may enter into the city” (kai tois pylōsin eiselthōsineis tēn polin).The apostle John is emphasizing the way of entrance, that is, by the gates, and not the fact of entrance. 10
“Gates of ancient cities were for defense or honor or both. To be known ‘in the gates’ was to sit among the ‘elders of the land’ and have a position of high honor and authority (Proverbs 31:23, cf. ISBE 2:408). Since defense is not a function of these ‘gates’ into the heavenly city; they are to be regarded as places of honor and authority. The overcomer was promised ‘authority’ over the nations (Revelation 2:26). John describes them elsewhere, as memorials to the twelve tribes of Israel (21:12, 14). We are reminded of the Roman victory arches which sat astride the main thoroughfares entering into Rome. There were thousands of entry ways into Rome, but Caesar entered by these gates, by the victory arch. Through these gates, according to John, ‘the honor and glory of the nations’ will enter (Revelation 21:25-26).” 11 “As Lange has suggested, to enter by the gates means to enter ‘as conquerors in triumphal procession.’” 12
What Jesus may have had in mind when He spoke of faithful believers entering the New Jerusalem through “the gates” (22:14), are “the victory arches that towered over the main thoroughfares entering into Rome. Through these gates the triumphant Roman generals and their soldiers would march.” 13
For example, “the Arch of Titus near the Forum in Rome… was constructed after his victory over Jerusalem in AD 70.
“Engravings on it show Roman soldiers bringing back treasures from the temple in Jerusalem. Similarly, those Christians [believers] who remain faithful to their King will enter the city in victory and will be likewise honored.” 14
Wilkins writes, “When my friend Al visited the Middle East, an Israeli tour guide told him about a VIP entrance into a Middle Eastern city which only special dignitaries were permitted to use. The New Jerusalem will have twelve such entrances.
“It is quite probable that there will be more ways to enter the New Jerusalem than through its twelve gates of pearl. While all believers will be able to enter the city, only select believers will enter by the gates.
“In the Old Testament to be ‘in the gates’ was a privilege reserved for the elders of the city. Citizens would come there to ask the elders for their judgment in matters (see Ruth 4:9-10).
“To enter the New Jerusalem through one of its twelve gates will be a great honor reserved only for those believers who overcame in this life.” 15
If you are the kind of person who enjoys receiving recognition and appreciation, this eternal reward may appeal most to you. Each time you enter one of the main gates of the New Jerusalem, you will be given special honor perhaps before the angel at that gate (21:12). Jesus promised, “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8). It may be when an overcoming believer who faithfully “confessed” Christ “before men” especially in hostile contexts (Luke 12:1-12; cf. Matthew 10:16-42) during his Christian life on earth, enters one of the main gates into the New Jerusalem in the life to come, the Lord Jesus will give a good confession (special recognition) about that believer to the angel of God at that gate. Jesus wants us to know that if we testify of Him in the face of hostile persecution during our Christian lives on earth, He will testify about us before the angels of God and God the Father in the life to come on the new earth (Luke 12:8; Matthew 10:32).
This confession by Christ may include the declaration that this faithful believer is fit to rule with Him because he or she endured opposition when speaking up for Christ throughout their entire Christian lives (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12; Matthew 10:16-32). 16 Believers on the inside of the city at that gate will stop what they are doing to welcome this overcomer into the city. Since overcomers will rule with Christ in His eternal kingdom (Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21), they will be honored as royalty each time they enter the New Jerusalem.
Those believers who do not faithfully confess Christ before hostile people in this life will still be on the new earth because the only condition for that is to believe in Christ for His gift of eternal life apart from any works, including confessing Him before men (cf. John 3:5-16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 21:27b). However, Jesus will “deny” giving them a good confession before God the Father and the angels of God because they refused to testify of Him in the face of opposition during their Christian lives on earth (Luke 12:9; Matthew 10:33). Hence, they will still be on the new earth, but they will not have the honor and privilege of entering through one of the main gates into the New Jerusalem. Christ has informed us now of this reward to motivate us to speak up for Him even though the cost may include losing our lives for Him.
After talking about those who may enter the New Jerusalem through the main gates, the Lord Jesus then describes those who will not be able to enter the city at all. “Outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” (Revelation 22:15). All those who refused to believe in Jesus for eternal life during their time on earth will be “outside” the New Jerusalem forever, confined to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
Jesus describes these nonbelievers as “dogs” (kynes). This unusual term referred to male prostitutes in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 23:18) which were common among Canaanite religious cults. Jesus and the apostles in New Testament times used this term to refer to enemies of God’s Word (cf. Matthew 7:6; Mark 7:27; Philippians 3:2). 17 In John’s day, “dogs” were wild, aggressive scavengers and considered unclean by the Jews. 18 These human “dogs” were spiritual predators who fed off others.
Imagine being on the new earth in the New Jerusalem and not having to deal with people who take away or add to God’s Word!?! No more legalists who keep declaring that you must obey the law and believe in Jesus to enter God’s heaven. No more false teachers who say all religions lead to heaven. No more false religions that try to mislead us away from the one true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ (I John 5:20). No more false prophets who deny Jesus is God and reject His death and resurrection. All these human “dogs” will be cast into the lake of fire forever.
Christ also refers to unbelieving sinners who are “sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” All of them will be consigned to the lake of fire because of their unbelief toward Christ (cf. John 3:18; Revelation 20:15; 21:27). This verse is saying nothing about born again believers in Jesus who have committed such sins because they have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ and are totally forgiven before God (Revelation 1:5; 7:14; cf. Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14). 19
Remember, King David was “sexually immoral” and a “murderer” (2 Samuel 11:14-27), yet the Bible refers to David as an example of those who are justified (declared totally righteous before God) by faith alone in Christ alone apart from any works (Romans 4:5-8; cf. Psalm 32:1-2). So, when a person in the Old Testament or in the New Testament believes in the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, he, or she is covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ so that God no longer sees their sin, He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son (Genesis 15:6; Romans 3:21-4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:21) and permits that person to enter His heaven.
Another example of God’s grace toward sinning believers is seen in I Corinthians. The Christians at Corinth were “sexually immoral” by having immoral relations with temple prostitutes (I Corinthians 6:12-7:5). They even tolerated sexual immorality among their church members (I Corinthians 5:1-13), yet the apostle Paul refers to these immoral believers “at Corinth” as “those who are sanctified [set apart positionally from their sin] in Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:2a). He addresses them as “saints” positionally even though their practice was far from saintly (I Corinthians 1:2b).
Paul addresses them as “saints” so they will begin to live like the saints they are in Christ. The more believers see themselves as saints in Christ, the more they will live like saints. Nowhere in I Corinthians does Paul doubt or question the salvation of the Corinthian believers. What he does question is their understanding of who they are in Christ. For example, in I Corinthians 6:19, he writes, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” The more they understood and believed their new identity in Christ, the more they would live the way God created them to live in Christ.
When professing believers do not go on to grow toward Christlike maturity, it is important that church leaders do not automatically assume that they are unsaved. It is possible they are not saved, but not because they lack a changed life. What makes a person unsaved is their unbelief toward Christ (John 3:18, 36). Many believers lack spiritual growth in their Christian lives because they have not been discipled by older believers. Discipleship involves helping believers to see who they are in Christ, so they can begin to live like the person God created them in Christ Jesus to be (cf. Ephesians 2:10).
Only by God’s grace will all believers who have failed Him (and we all have) be on the new earth and/or New Jerusalem because God does not fail them (2 Timothy 2:13). He remains faithful to His promise of eternal life to all who believe in Jesus (John 3:15-16, 36; et al.). However, only those believers who faithfully endure in their obedience to Christ (overcome) to the end will have the special honor and privilege of accessing the tree of life and entering through the main gates of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 2:7, 25-27; 22:14). Such splendid eternal rewards are intended to motivate us to live faithfully for Christ now.
Prayer: Holy Lord Jesus, thank You for Your amazing love which led You to die in our place on the cross for all our sins and rise from the dead so whoever believes in You has everlasting life and a future home on the new earth no matter how much they have failed You in the past. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for disclosing to us the incredible eternal rewards that await us if we faithfully obey You till the end of our lives on earth. As the Alpha and Omega, You have complete knowledge of us, including what will motivate us to live for You during our time on earth. Thank You for giving us different persevering rewards that appeal to our different likes and preferences. Some of us love to eat food more than anything else, so we are more motivated to live for You so we can enjoy special delicacies throughout eternity such as eating the hidden manna and the fruit from the tree of life. Others of us received little recognition or attention growing up, so we especially like the prospect of receiving special honor and recognition from You by entering through the main gates of the New Jerusalem on the new earth. Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for knowing us so thoroughly and yet loving us so deeply. Such amazing love motivates us to live for You more than anyone or anything else. In Your majestic name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 400 cites John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1993.
2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 255.
3. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 6675.
4. Constable, pg. 238.
5. Ibid., pg. 255 cites Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), pg. 238.
6. Ibid., pg. 33.
7. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1504.
8. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 46.
9. Vacendak, pg. 1590.
10. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 974-975.
11. Ibid., pg. 975.
12. Ibid., cites John Peter Lange, “The Revelation of John,” in A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. John Peter Lange, et al. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 12:446.
13. Dillow, pg. 975.
15. Wilkin, pg. 47.
16. Hal Haller, Jr., Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 58.
17. Vacendak, pg. 1590.
18. Constable, pg. 255 cites Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 6 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 485; and Alan Johnson, “Revelation,” in Hebrews-Revelation, Vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pg. 602.
19. Walvoord, Kindle Location 6684.