THE RIVER OF HEAVEN based on Rev. 22:1-2
By Glenn Pease
Kipling's book, Kim, has been called the greatest story of a river that has ever been written. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha shot an arrow into the air, and where it fell, a river sprang up. The river was sacred, and whoever bathed in it would be cleansed from all sin. Kipling's story is about an old lama who wonders through cities and rice fields, over hills and across plains, always asking the same question. "The River, the River of the Arrow; the River that can cleanse from sin; where is the River?"
The universal search of man has been to find a river that satisfies every thirst of the body and soul. The quest of Ponce de Leon for the fountain of youth is a quest that has gone on all through history. Most of history follows the paths of the great rivers of the world. Babylon is built on the Euphratus; Nineveh was built on the Tigris; Thebes was built on the Nile, and Rome was built on the Tiber. We could go on around the world showing how the great cities are built by great rivers. Rivers have been the streams of life for the cities of the world. Our own great Mississippi has played a major role in the history of our country. The name in Algonquin means, Great River.
One of the strange paradoxes is that Jerusalem was not built by a river. This was a draw back, and the Jews always hoped that one day that their holy city, like the great cities of the world, could have a river. The prophets and psalmists were forever dreaming and singing of the river. Ezekiel, in a vision, saw a board river rushing out of Jerusalem. Isaish saw a future Jerusalem where he says in 33:21, "There the Lord will be our Mighty One. It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams." He got so disgusted with the disobedience of the people and God Himself lamented in 48:18, "O that you had harkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river..." Peace like a river, and the prosperity of a river have always been the rewards of a people blessed of God. To the Jewish mind, the ideal city must have a river. They believe that God Himself dwelt by a river in heaven. Psalm 46:4 we read, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High."
In John's vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, he shows us that all the hopes of a sacred city on a sacred river will be fulfilled, and we will have peace like a river forever. It is fascinating to study rivers, but here is the most fascinating river of all. Christianity was, in a sense, born on a river. John the Baptist began the New Testament ministry by baptizing in the Jordan River. Jesus was baptized in this famous river just before He began His public ministry. The Jordan is the most famous river of the Bible. Naaman didn't think it compared to the rivers of Syria, but when he obeyed God, the waters of Jordan became the waters of life for him, and they cleansed his leprosy.
Crossing over Jordan has become a symbolic way of referring to entering heaven. This is because, the entrance of Israel into the promise land began with the miracle of crossing over the Jordan on dry ground. It was the Jordan that made the promised land the nearest thing to the garden of Eden. It gave life to all the rich soil of the Jordan valley, and produced abundance of fruit. In Gen. 13:10 we read, "And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the entire Jordan Valley was irrigated....and it was life a garden of God." Just as the first paradise needed a river to keep it beautiful, and just as the promised land needed a river to keep it beautiful, so the eternal paradise for all God's people needs a river. John, as an eye witness, says it will be there.
All that a river has meant to man in history will be ours in perfection as dwellers in the holy city. What blood is to the body a river is to the city, and that is why it is called the river of the water of life. The blood stream has been called the river of life. When Jesus shed His blood in atonement for our sin, He sacrificed His river of life. Now by trusting in that river of life for forgiveness, we can have the hope of dwelling by that eternal river of life. One day gathered by that river we will sing some such words as this,
O blessed Lord, we little dreamed
Of such a morn as this;
Such rivers of unmingled joy
Such full unbounded bliss!
And Oh! How sweet the happy thought,
That all we taste or see,
We owe it to the dying Lamb,
We owe it all to Thee.
It is understandable why many feel this river of heaven is symbolic. Jesus used the ideal of a river in a symbolic way. In John 7:38 Jesus said, "He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water." He goes on to explain that the river is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Back in John 4:14, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, "...Whoever drinks of the water I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." These are obviously symbolic. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the river of heaven is a real and literal river.
It is the real river and it's values that give meaning to the symbolic use of it. DeHaan is right, I believe, when he says we will need a water supply for all eternity because we will enjoy the pleasures of eating and drinking. I am convinced that water will be part of the new heaven and the new earth. God made water as the basis for life on this earth. The world began with water and the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters. He had to divide the waters before any dry land could appear.
Scientists tell us that 70 per cent of the earth is yet water. From space our planet looks like a big drop of water. The earth is the only place known that is suitable for H2O in liquid form. Everywhere else is either so cold or so hot that is can exist only as a solid or a gas.. On earth alone is this unique source of life able to flow, and bring life to animals and vegetables. This makes the planet earth the most rare and unique place in all of God's creation. Water is the chemical creation that God has chosen to be the foundation of life. We have some hints as to why this is the case.
God so often builds into His creation something of His own nature. Thus, we can learn of Him by what He has made. Water is an expression of the very character of God. In Jer. 2:13, God says to His people, "They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water." In Ps. 65:9 we read of the River of God which is full of water and by which the earth is watered and enriched. If you study all that the Bible says about water and compare it with all that science knows about water, you will see why it is such an excellent symbol of the Holy Spirit. Water is a part of the very nature of God.
Water is not a trinity by accident. H2O is two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. It is a three in one element that can take on a three-fold nature of solid, liquid, and gas. What exciting symbolism is contained in water! The solid representing God the Father who remained on the throne of glory, like the majestic glaciers of the North Pole. Then the liquid representing the Son who flowed from the throne of God, as the River of Life, into the desert of this world to make it bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. Then there is the gas state of water representing the invisible but powerful as gas person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. Steam, or water in a gaseous state, has been a source of great power.
The skeptic may feel this is all a lucky coincidence, but let us look at more amazing parallels between water and the nature of God. God's nature is paradoxical, that is, it is both the source of life and the source of judgment. God is a consuming fire as well as the water of life. God combines in His nature the opposites of fire and water.
What is fascinating is that water itself also has this paradoxical nature.
Henry Cavendish, back in 1783, was doing some experiments with the scientific sensation of the day-electricity. He wanted to see what would happen if he sent a current of electricity through a tube of water. He was shocked when the water vanished before his eyes. He repeated it again and again, and he was astounded. He examined the contents of the tube and discovered that water, the quencher of flames could be turned into a gas that was highly combustible and stimulated fire. He published a paper by the Royal Society in 1784, and he called water, "inflammable air."
Other scientists thought he was some kind of a crackpot. Water stimulating fire-it was absurd. The famous French scientist deRazier, was determined to expose this hoax before the world. He duplicated the experiment of Cavendish and attached a valve to the tube so he could inhale the so-called inflammable air. Before a panel of prominent citizens as witnesses he switched on the current, filled his lungs with the gas left in the tube, and held a lighted paper at his lips as he exhaled. There was a terrific explosion and deRazier thought all his teeth had been blown out. He had proven the hard way that water can produce fire.
What a marvelous coincidence, that the source of life on earth has a nature so similar to the nature of the Creator. To the student of the Bible it is no coincidence, but rather, the design of God. Water is an expression of His very nature and that is why I am convinced that water will be a part of all eternity. The rich man in hell begged for just a drop of water. Hell is pictured as a place with no water. Heaven, on the other hand, is portrayed as a place with an abundance of water.
Rutherford Platt, in his book Water The Wonder Of Life, after describing how essential water is to all that physicist do in the laboratory, writes, "It possesses order and creates order. Is not water something on the level of divine creation?" Yes it is! And the Bible reveals it will be a part of the new creation of eternity as well. Our text tells us that the river of heaven flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb. There are only two thrones, and so the Holy Spirit does not have a throne in heaven. This may just be a coincidence, but it is of interest to note that water is two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. The two hydrogen atoms are always in pairs. They stick together like the Father and the Son.The oxygen atom is the one that most fits the Holy Spirit, for it stirs up and creates activity. It is the key element in the giant sun flares, for example. The Holy Spirit if the Person of the Godhead who moves and motivates and produces the fire, like oxygen. It could just be coincidence, but it could also be another way God had built something of His nature into water, the basic source of life.
Water, like the Godhead, is also connected with light. Water power is the source of much of our electricity of our nation. Water power is light power. Belle Chapman Morrill, has put it into poetry-
For centuries, This untamed waterfall
Leaped to the gorge below with frightening power,
Dashing to splinters the venturesome canoe,
Cleaving the stubborn rock.
Today, Majestic still,
No loser for it's giving,
It lights a hundred million homes By it's hidden power.
Now....in this very moment....
O Spirit of the living God,
Cut deeper channels in the selfish rock;
Transform your power within me
To light for groping men.
When the Confederate and Union armies fought each other in the Civil War, they had one thing in common, and that was the need for water to quench their thirst. At the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, there is a bricked wall with a tablet telling the story of how both sides drank from that same well to sustain life. Water is something all men have in common as a need. Water is the source of life, and Jesus is the living water, the source of eternal life. The poet offers this toast to water-
Here's to old Adam's crystal ale,
Clear sparkling and divine,
Fair H2O, long may you flow
And leave us not behind.
We can flow on with the river of life forever, and drink of the water of life, if we realize that in Christ we have found the fountain of youth-that sin cleansing river that all men have longed for. The river of life that flowed from His body on Calvary is the river that cleanses from all sin. Is it just a coincidence that water is the key element for cleanliness? The water and blood that flowed from Christ's side can cleanse us from all sin. When we partake of the communion elements, we drink symbolically from the sacred river of life that cleanses and gives us life. In time and in eternity we will be praising God for the gift of water. One poet conveyed it in these words-
Praise to God in running water,
Gleaming, glancing, and running water.
Crystal clear it's joyous cheer,
Dreaming, dancing, running water;
Amber-bright all slashed with white,
Sweet, romancing, running water;
Give God praise for all fair water!
His sweet grace is running water.
God's sweet grace is running water,
All fair sparkling, running water,
Bubbling spring from rock or sod,
Goodly thing, the gift of God,
Babbling praises as it flows,
Gathering grace as it grows,
Scattering joys wher'er it goes;
Praise to God in running water!
You can use water to communicate your faith in Christ, and your hope in heaven. You can ask people if they have a guaranteed water supply for all eternity. You can share the good news that in Christ you can have access to the fountain of perpetual youth. He is the source of life and the one we must trust, if we would drink forever from the river of heaven.