Then said he to me, See you do it not: for I am your fellow servant, and of your brothers the prophets…
The Revised Version reads: "Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life." There can be no doubt whatever that this reading is the correct one. "Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they might have right to the tree of life," carries us back to the old law, and has no more hopeful a sound in it than the thunders of Sinai. "Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have right to the tree of life," has the clear ring of the New Testament music about it, and is in full accord with the whole type of doctrine that runs through this book; and is not unworthy to be almost the last word that the lips of the Incarnate Wisdom spoke to men from heaven.
I. IF WE ARE CLEAN IT IS BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN MADE SO. The first benediction that Jesus Christ spoke from the mountain was, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The last benediction that He speaks from heaven is, "Blessed are they that wash their robes." And the act commended in the last is but the outcome of the spirit extolled in the first. For they who are poor in spirit are such as know themselves to be sinful men; and those who know themselves to be sinful men are they who will cleanse their robes in the blood of Jesus Christ.
II. THESE CLEANSED ONES, AND BY IMPLICATION THESE ONLY, HAVE UNRESTRAINED ACCESS TO THE SOURCE OF LIFE. The tree of life stands as the symbol here of an external source. I take "life" to be used here in what I believe to be its predominant New Testament meaning, not bare continuance in existence, but a full ideal perfection and activity of all the faculties and possibilities of the man, which this very apostle himself identifies with the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ. And that life, says John, has an external source in heaven as on earth. And the source is "the tree of life." They that wash their robes have the right of unrestrained access to Him in whose presence, in that loftier state, no impurity can live. The tree of life, according to some of the old Rabbinical legends, the tree of life lifted its branches, by an indwelling motion, high above impure hands that were stretched to touch them, and until our hands are cleansed through faith in Jesus Christ, its richest fruit hangs unreachable, golden, above our heads. Oh, the fulness of the life of heaven is only granted to them who, drawing near Jesus Christ by faith on earth, have thereby cleansed themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.
III. THOSE WHO ARE CLEANSED, AND THEY ONLY, HAVE THE ENTRANCE INTO THE SOCIETY OF THE CITY. The city is the emblem of security and of permanence. No more shall life be as a desert march, with changes which only bring sorrow, and yet a dreary monotony amidst them all. We shall dwell amid abiding realities, ourselves fixed in unchanging but ever-growing completeness and peace.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.