River of Life

“And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” —Revelation 22:1

THE 46th Psalm, which prophetically describes the troublous times at the end of the Gospel Age, tells of “a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the City of God.” The grouping of three illustrations in this psalm—that of a tabernacle, a city, and a river—is similar to the grouping of these same illustrations (in more detail) in Revelation 21 and 22. Previous articles on these illustrations called attention to the use of the Tabernacle as a picture of the mediatorial work of Christ, and the City of God as used to illustrate the eternal and permanent kingdom of God, into which kingdom all the true, tried, and tested people of God will enter to spend eternity. The full acceptance of God’s righteous laws by the people of earth and their obedience to them in the next age coincide with their entrance into the City of God.

The third and final illustration is that of a river, called river of life in Revelation. A river is familiar to all, whether one lives in the country or in a city, because rivers flow through country and city alike. Cities are frequently built on rivers, to supply the needs of the dwellers. Commercial activity is also enhanced by a city’s being on a river.

The description of rivers by Solomon (Eccles. 1:7) reminds us of perpetual motion. In principle, rivers are perpetual energy; but in reality, it is the sun that is the true source of that energy. The sun causes water to evaporate from all exposed bodies of water, such as seas, oceans, lakes, ponds, and rivers. The invisible water vapor is transported vast distances in the earth’s atmosphere until it encounters a mass of cold air. Then it is precipitated and falls as rain or snow (usually in high places) on the earth. The rain can soak into the ground and be collected in underground streams, or it may run off on the surface into brooks, creeks, or young rivers, which unite and form a larger stream called a river. This river then flows into the sea and the cycle is repeated.

Water has been used in the Scriptures to represent God’s truth. The lack of truth today in this present sinful world can be illustrated by the condition of a drought, as shown in Amos 8:11, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”

The Lord’s people living in this sinful world are described as thirsting for righteousness. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of these as being blessed. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”—Matt. 5:6

In the sustenance of life on earth, water plays a most important part. Next to the oxygen we breathe, water follows in importance as necessary to sustain life. In the desert, where there is no water, the oasis with its water supply is the life-sustaining spot. In the desert of this present evil world, the Bible is the life-sustaining message. The truth of God’s Word leads to eternal life. This thought was in the mind of Jesus when he talked with the woman at the well and said to her: “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.” (John 4:10) It has been our blessed privilege to receive from our Lord these living waters to drink. Faith in the ransom has given us life. Furthermore, Jesus has brought us to the Father, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and we have found that he is the true Source of all life. From him flow all truth and living waters. God, in speaking to Jeremiah, described himself as “the Fountain of living waters” (Jer. 2:13); and later Jeremiah uses this same description to praise God. (Jer. 17:13) In Psalm 36:9 David says of God, “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.”

Psalm 65:9 speaks of the river of God: “Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it.” This wonderful event is a prophecy of the future, when God shall indeed visit the earth and bless it. It reminds us of the river described in Revelation 22:1: “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” The source of this river of the future is also the throne of God (and of the Lamb).

In order to see the association between the City of God and the river of life, we should look at natural earthly examples. As mentioned before, there is a relationship between rivers and cities. The large cities of the world have frequently been built on rivers. This has happened even when they were built on a seacoast. New York City is on the Hudson River, St. Louis is on the Mississippi River, Cincinnati is on the Ohio River, London is on the Thames River, Paris is on the Seine River, to give a few examples. Babylon of old was built on the Euphrates River and its tributaries. When Israel was taken captive, they lamented: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” (Ps. 137:1) This same river was responsible for Babylon’s fall. The Medes and Persians could not take the city because of its massive walls. By diverting the river from its original bed, they gained entrance, marching their armies under the walls through the dry river bed, and thus they conquered the city.

There are many reasons why cities were built along rivers, but the primary one was that a river was the source of drinking water to sustain life. It was also a source of water for many other purposes, such as irrigation, navigation, and energy. Years ago the water wheel was a principal source of power for mills and industry.

Because of selfishness, it has been all too easy to pollute rivers by using them for waste disposal. This calls to mind another type of illustration, similar to that of a drought or desert. The people of the world have not only been thirsting, unable to find waters of truth to drink, but when they have found what they thought to be pure water, it was so often polluted with error. The expression “muddy waters of tradition” is very apt.

In real life today cities still depend upon rivers for drinking water, but wherever possible most of them try to provide uncontaminated water from reservoirs located some distance from the city. When cities are forced to use river water, steps are taken to purify it with filtration and treating plants to meet drinking water standards. Very often these waters become so contaminated that the natural forces which God has set in motion to purify waters cannot overcome the pollution. As rivers flow toward the sea and become contaminated, minute bacteria, nourished by the oxygen dissolved from the air, feed on the undesirable and harmful forms of bacteria. Hence if pollution can be stopped for awhile, it is possible that the river will purify itself without the assistance of man. Also, we see how God daily uses the energy of the sun to distill huge quantities of water, separating the water from all harmful components and depositing this water in the high mountain regions of the earth, where the pure water flows as small mountain streams and finally finds its way to a river (or a reservoir of drinking water).

A river can sometimes become a raging torrent and a source of disaster. Heavy rains will swell a river until it overflows its banks and floods the entire area, causing loss of life and creating much property damage. Flooding of a river is used also in the Scriptures as an example of God’s power, as shown in Nahum 1:8: “But with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies.” The entire chapter speaks of the time of trouble that comes upon the earth. In describing the mighty power of God, the prophet Nahum uses many illustrations of natural phenomena, including this one of a flood. Jesus, too, in concluding his Sermon on the Mount, used the flood of waters to teach a lesson: “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matt. 7:24-27) The lesson by Jesus was intended for Christians, who are to build their faith on the words of Jesus and the promises of God. Then, when the storms of life come, their “house” will withstand these experiences.

However, the ordinary use of water in the Scriptures is as the desirable and necessary substance for the sustenance of life. The present world is devoid of this figurative precious water, the lack of which is heightened even more (to an extreme) in the illustrations dealing with the great time of trouble that brings this present evil world to an end. The climax to this trouble will be so severe that it will appear as if all civilization has come to an end. All of this is necessary in preparation for the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. The world has been a wilderness and a desert place, not a civilization. Mankind is properly pictured in the Scriptures as lost, dying of thirst, without God and without hope. Such is the picture given in the 107th Psalm, verses 33,34: “He turneth rivers into a wilderness, and the watersprings into dry ground; a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.” But then the process is reversed: “He turneth the wilderness into a standing water, and dry ground into watersprings. And there he maketh the hungry to dwell, that they may prepare a city for habitation.”—vss. 35,36

These latter passages refer to the Millennial Age work, when mankind is brought out of the condition of sin up to perfection and all are privileged to know God. The Prophet Isaiah speaks in a similar fashion of God’s favor and blessing returning to natural Israel and extending to all mankind, saying: “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field shall honor me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen.”—Isa. 43:19,20

Other scriptural examples give illustrations of the earth being covered by the knowledge of God. For example, we have Habakkuk 2:14: For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

The wonderful river of life that flows out of the throne of God and of the Lamb in the kingdom is intended for those who become permanent residents of the City of God. It is a blessing that is available to those who truly hunger and thirst for righteousness. The invitation to such is described in Revelation 22:17: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. … And let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

This river represents eternal life, available to all who drink of it or from it. It is described as a pure river, clear as crystal. Hence it is an excellent symbol for truth as well as for the wisdom of God, of which James says: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”—James 3:17

As water has always been essential for the growth of vegetation, so also the river of life is related to the tree of life. In a desert land, where there is limited rainfall, the flow of a river through the land can easily be discerned by the green vegetation growing along its banks. In lands where the rainfall is normal, the vegetation is far more copious along the banks of the river. So also in this City: where the river of life flows, the tree of life grows. This tree is not a single tree but a grove, because the tree of life is on both sides of the river. This life-giving vegetation represents the sustenance of eternal life available for all the willing and obedient of his kingdom. “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”—Rev. 22:2

Father Adam had access to such a tree; and when he disobeyed God, he was expelled from the Garden of Eden lest he partake of the fruit of this tree and continue to live. It is said that the fruits of these trees are “for the healing of the nations.” These are akin to the fruits of the Spirit, such as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. (Gal. 5:22,23) The natural minds of the people of earth will develop along these lines in the kingdom.

The 1st Psalm uses this same figure of a tree, planted by a river, in describing a “godly man”: “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Ps. 1:1-3) Although this scripture refers to the church class, called out of this present evil world, it applies in principle to all the willing and obedient of mankind in Christ’s kingdom. The river of life will cause them to grow and prosper. Isaiah, in speaking of Christ’s kingdom, uses the same figure of speech: “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”—Isa. 32:1,2

The 65th Psalm likewise speaks of this kingdom and of how all flesh “shall come” unto God: “O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.” (vs. 2) The “river of God,” mentioned in the 9th verse of this psalm, flows to enrich the land (all mankind) and is this same river of life. “Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness. They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side. The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.”—vss. 9-13

The river of life is a symbol of many blessings. Its very name, river of life, reveals God’s purpose. God created man, not only to live, but to enjoy life. Psalm 36:8 calls this river a “river of Thy pleasures”: “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house; and Thou shalt make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures.” God is pleased when all his creatures are happy. It gives God pleasure to bless his creation. This river is a river not only of life but of truth, of blessing, and of peace. It is a river of truth, because it comes from God; it is a river of blessing, because it provides the means of life; it is a river of peace, because it has brought reconciliation. “O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” (Isa. 48:18) “For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees.”—Isa. 66:12

Above all, God invites us to know that life, peace, prosperity, blessings, and truth will be endless in the ages to come. Hence, Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:7: “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.” This gives us the picture of the perpetual nature of rivers. So also this river of life is endless. It shall never cease to flow. Praise be to God. His goodness endureth forever. Amen.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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