Let the River Flow!
Water is sometimes expressed as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. Christians of all flavors agree that the Holy Spirit, like a mighty river, is powerful and is the source of life, comfort, and refreshment for God’s people.
Several years ago, I spoke at my church from one of the primary Old Testament passages alluded to in Revelation 22. No; I am not referring to Genesis 2-3 and the garden of Eden, although obviously Revelation 22 is picturing a restored access to the garden for redeemed humanity. I am referring to Ezekiel 47, where a trickle of water emanates from under the Temple. As the stream reaches a point about a quarter mile from the Temple, it is now ankle-deep. One-half mile downstream, it reaches the knees. Three quarters of a mile? It’s now waist deep. By the one-mile mark, it is too deep to ford, and one must swim to cross it.
Interestingly, this river is lined with fruit trees whose leaves (metaphor for acts of justice and mercy?) are also for the healing of the nations. As well, the river is productively fished, and it flows into the brackish sea, rendering it fresh.
In Revelation 22, we read again of a crystal-clear river, this one emanating from the throne of the Father and the Lamb. This river flows in the midst of the “street of the city”. On both sides is the tree of life, whose leaves are for the “healing of the nations.”
In the context of the prophetic word of Revelation, the Temple is no longer a physical building. God dwells permanently among men, making a physical temple and its rituals unnecessary. Indeed, notions of a future “millennial temple” envisioned under Premillennial Dispensationalism dogma seem unlikely, given that the Epistle to the Hebrews is rather emphatic in its message: The Kingdom of God is no longer manifested through nor constrained by the trappings of Judaism (Heb. 8-10). As citizens of the Kingdom, we worship in Spirit and in truth. Physical location has become irrelevant (John 4:21-24). So, what about the powerful river that emanates from the Temple (Ezek. 47) and the Throne (Rev. 22)?
It seems possible that the growing size of the river in the Ezekiel passage is a foreshadowing of the growth of the Kingdom of God. It was rather small early in redemptive history, but by Ezekiel’s time, Israel was beginning to catch on that God cares about “healing the nations” (Gentiles), and not merely with benefiting Israel. (Jonah learned this lesson, with difficulty). And then came Jesus, reminding them and us that the river was flowing whether they could see it or not:
He begins His ministry: “There were lepers in Israel, but only a Syrian was healed” …
To the Syrophoenician woman: “Great is your faith!” …
About the centurion, a Roman, whose slave He healed: “I have not seen such faith in Israel.”
The Kingdom of God is a powerful, inclusive entity, growing in both size and in power, even as a mighty river starting as a trickle. It is life-giving and refreshing. As fruit trees provide food, shade, shelter, and even wood, the Kingdom is about human (and creation) flourishing – not merely ancient Judaism flourishing.
Although we, like ancient Israel, often struggle to see this river of life as more than a resource for ourselves, and although we often look away toward the barrenness of the wastelands beyond the banks, the river/Kingdom is indeed flowing…and growing…and is for the benefit of all humanity (and creation).
It may at times seem like a mere trickle to us in times of doubt and discouragement, but it is a mighty stream. Let us not try and dam it, channelize it, or divert it.
Let the river flow!