What are the “leaves” that “heal” in Revelation 22? What do they represent? What is the healing?
The passage in question describes a most unusual picture. As translated in the New English Bible it reads: “Then he showed me the river of the water of life, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the city’s street. On either side of the river stood a tree of life, which yields twelve crops of fruit, one for each month of the year; the leaves of the trees serve for the healing of the nations. Every accursed thing shall disappear” (Rev. 22:1-2, NEB).
Let us analyze the picture. First, the setting is the center of a city. Coursing down the middle of the main street of the city is a river, called “a river of the water of life.” This river originates at “the throne of God and of the Lamb.” On either side of this river is a tree, called “the tree of life.” These trees bear fruit in a singular manner–they “yield crops of fruit, one for each month of the year”–in other words, continually. The leaves of these trees are useful, providing “healing” for “the nations.”
Revelation 22 is a continuation of the account recorded in the preceding chapter, in which John describes a vision he has seen of “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.” He has explained that the city is “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Rev. 21:9), and it is said to come down from heaven because it is designed, built and authorized by God. In beautiful symbolic language the faithful are represented as this spiritual city, which will come into being after Christ and the saints have taken over the government of the earth. Into this city nothing may come that defiles, nothing that can cause harm. Only they can enter whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Now what about the river that flows through this city?
The Revelator describes it as a “pure river of water of life” flowing through the midst of this spiritual city, or “coursing down main street,” as it is paraphrased in the Living Bible. This river is the same pictured by the prophet Ezekiel (chapter 47), which began as a mere trickle of water and grew and grew until it was described as “water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed” (Ezek. 47:5). In this passage the knowledge of God is represented as water, the same water of life which Jesus offered the woman of Samaria, the water of divine knowledge which will “spring up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). It is water that purifies from sin, water which cleanses, and most of all, water that perpetuates life. Everywhere this river goes, it carries its wonderful life-giving property. “And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live” (Ezek. 47:9).
What are the trees which grow along the banks of this river? They, too, must be spiritual–can we picture literal trees growing in a spiritual city beside a spiritual river? Following the Bible rule, we must “compare spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:13) if we would understand the Divine Mind.
In the Bible, people of God who possess His knowledge of salvation and dispense it to others are called, in Scriptural terminology, trees, “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord” (Isa. 61:3). The Psalmist compared the righteous man to “a tree, planted by the rivers of water,” bringing forth fruit in its season, “whose leaf also shall not wither” (Ps. 1:3). The prophet Jeremiah made the same comparison (Jer. 17:7-8).
Such trees bear fruit, and again the terminology is figurative. The fruit of these trees is abundant and perfect, and of benefit to everyone. Jesus highlighted the importance of bearing this good fruit when He said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples” (John 15:8). It is the fruit of a righteous, God-directed life, the fruit of holiness, the fruit of the Spirit, which is patience, kindness, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, faith and all the Christlike virtues (Gal. 5:22- 23).
What about the leaves of the trees? What do they represent?
The Revelator says that the “leaves” provide “healing for the nations.”
After God’s judgments have swept over the earth, removing all that is opposed to the new and better order, there will be great need for healing worldwide. There will doubtless be need for physical healing, for the people of that age “will not say, ‘I am sick’” (Isa. 33:24). But this special healing includes far more than healing the victims of disease and physical infirmity. Immediately following the battle of Armageddon, there will still be many deep wounds caused by the sin that has only recently been removed. All who live will need healing of one type or another.
Much of the healing process will be done through new programs of education. The survivors of God’s judgments will need to be instructed in the worship of the one true God and the higher life of love, obedience and devotion that He requires. Those who are “trees of righteousness,” or approved servants of God, will share in this blessed task. Using the power of God and the means He will provide, they will dispense help and healing worldwide. This great healing work was described prophetically by Isaiah in these words: “Those among them who escape I will send to the nations, …and to the coastlands afar off who have not heard My fame, nor seen My glory. And they shall declare My glory among the Gentiles” (Isa. 66:19). This will continue until the prophecy of Jeremiah is fulfilled, and “No more shall every man teach his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’ for they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34).
The prophet Ezekiel makes a very similar point on the usefulness of the trees that will grow by this river of life: “their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine” (Ezek. 47:12)–another way of describing the healing that will be needed for spiritual maladies.
The result of this universal “healing” program is described by the prophet Isaiah (32:17-18): “The work of righteousness will be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceable habitation, In secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” (Isa. 32:17-18).
Specific aspects of this “healing” might include education in right living, personal discipline, the proper guidance and instruction of children, and the establishing of new spiritual and moral goals for everyone worldwide. The process will continue until the prophecy of Zephaniah 3:15 is fulfilled, when “you shall not see evil any more.”