The River of Life

Revelation 21: 1-7 NIV 21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning, and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Revelation 22: 1-5  NIV 22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

During the past several weeks, the Reflections has focused on water in the Bible. We have moved from the chaotic waters during creation as God’s Spirit hovered over the waters and gave organization to them. We have moved from that Scripture in Genesis to the River Jordan for the baptism of Jesus and then to witness the moaning and groaning of the Israelites when they had no water. We saw the second miracle of the splitting of raging waters of the flooding Jordan River as Joshua led the second generation of Jews into the promised land. Last week we read, again, about the Samaritan woman at the well and the saving power of Jesus, the Christ. Today we finish with Revelation. We will look at the passages about the River of Life, a powerful, hope-filled image of the end of time when there will be plenty of water for all eternity.

Revelation is one of the difficult end-of-time books of the New Testament. Seldom do we read this from beginning to end. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Ann and I have been reading various books of the Bible – Revelation was one of the first we read. It was very stimulating and needed to be read by two people – out-loud and then topics discussed. Try it—it is worthwhile to do!

Revelation is a series of messages to the seven churches that are in the present-day country of Turkey. The apostle John is credited with writing Revelation at the end of the first century, when Christians were under heavy persecution and Jerusalem lay in ruins.  With the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70AD by the Romans, the Jewish people wondered how God could have allowed such a turn of events to take place.  The temple was God’s throne, God’s home.  

We sometimes question what end-time images and messages have to do with our lives which are so deeply rooted in the reality of the here and now.  And the answer can be found in one word:  hope.  The message of John to his churches is a message of hope, and I believe the 21st century church is in as desperate a need for hope as were our 1st century sisters and brothers. We who are experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic have experienced a total change in how we worship — we come with masks – are socially spaced apart and there is no Wesley style singing. We have no idea as to how long this will be — but we remember how worship was and yearn for it to return. Meanwhile, we wait and persevere.

The Apostle John has a vision, and his vision embodies a critical truth. The way things are now are not the final word, so there is no reason to lose hope.  God is very much on the throne, and God’s purposes will not be thwarted. John is limited, as are we, to human language and human images to describe what God’s kingdom and life in God’s realm are like.  So, he tells of a New Jerusalem of gold and splendor.  He describes the Holy City as a place of peace and harmony. In Revelation 21:1 the sea is no more.  The waters of chaos that were present at creation, that terrified people in both the Old and New Testament scriptures, are no more.  John’s vision introduces the totality of God’s presence in every part of the new earth.  Chaotic and dangerous waters have no place anymore.

In 21:3 we read of God’s dwelling with mortals and that all humanity will be God’s peoples.  Scholars call our attention to the fact that the word used here is plural–peoples, not people–which indicates that all people, not just a few chosen ones, are included in the New Jerusalem.  All are invited to live in community with God and each other in the Holy City, which is another sign of God’s eternal hope and joy.

The compassion of God is on display in 21:4 through the stirring words, “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death shall be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…to the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” Frequently, this verse is used in funeral liturgies because of the hope that is expressed — no more mourning and crying – no more pain. It is a picture of God taking care of human needs for all eternity.  In the new heaven and new earth, the love of God triumphs everything and hope “springs eternal.” God does not discard creation for something else.  Instead, God perfects the new earth so that there is no pain or death or sin.  This is the restoration of the way God intended in the beginning and intends creation to be.

In Revelation 22, The Holy City has a river of life flowing from the throne of God into the entire city.  No more poisoned waters, no more drought, no more thirst, but a river of life flowing for all, inviting everyone who is thirsty to come and receive the water of life as a gift from God.  Lush fruit and trees grow by the rivers edges and fruit is provided for each month of the year. It is God’s grace of which there will be no end.

There is a small stream where Ann and I live. It actually starts from spring heads about one-half mile from our property. The stream is steady and flows regardless of the weather or droughts. There are deer prints everywhere – rabbits, foxes and squirrels are plentiful. Our golden retriever dogs would come back from the stream soaking wet, full of mud and briers – and they were exhausted. Life abounds by the stream and in the stream also.

The point of John’s vision is not for us to get caught up in end-time speculation or to be worried about what is coming or how or when.  What is important is that through Christ, we know the end of the story for both our own lives and for creation.  We are part of a story in which there is everlasting triumph of love over evil and over everything that separates us from God.  

  • Our hope is not that things will somehow get better on their own.  
  • Our hope is in God, and because God is love, all the things that cause God sadness are forever taken away.  
  • Hatred, violence, hunger, and loneliness are gone.  
  • There are no more wars.  
  • No more distrust between people.  
  • No more disease, either mental or physical.  
  • No more abuse or brokenness.  

John is not painting us an exact picture of what eternity with God will look like. John is inviting us to envision the best ending we can imagine, and then to know that it will be far, far better than anything we can dare dream.

What do we do between now and then? We live in hope.  Last week we saw where the Samaritan woman at the well began to reach out to her community. She can be an example to us as we offer hospitality, kindness, and genuine acceptance as often as we can, to everyone we can to a broken and fearful world.

Already God’s reign is present in the world. The Spirit is stirring hope in humanity and preparing the world to receive its ultimate judgment and redemption.  With an urgency born of this hope, the church applies itself to offer a vision for a better world.  

 So, let us live in hope!  Come Lord Jesus, Com!

Thanks be to God.  Amen.