The River of the Water of Life
Issue No. 219
At the end of the thousand years, all of the rest of the dead are to be raised for judgment. All will be accountable for the works which they did while alive on earth. Those who had opportunity and knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ will be judged accordingly. Those who had little or no opportunity to get to know Christ will be given that opportunity at that time.
Paul tells us in Phil. 2:10, 11
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Will this confession benefit them? Yes, of course. Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:3, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” So it is clear that they will all do so “by the Holy Spirit.”
Furthermore, Paul says in Rom. 10:9,
9 that if you confess with your mouth the Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.
It is to the glory of God that every tongue will confess that He is Lord in that day. When they make that confession, it is a profession of faith made by the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it would be inconceivable that anyone would or could refuse to believe that He is Lord when confronted by the full power and majesty of God Himself.
Nonetheless, because they did not confess Him in their life time on earth, they will have to live under authority of the believers in that final age. This will allow them to learn righteousness, as Isaiah 26:9 says,
9 For when Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.
The precise nature of judgment in that day is generally revealed in the “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2). But since each person must be judged differently, John does not try to define the “lake of fire” by listing specific judgments. And in Luke 12:48 Jesus only differentiates between those who knew the will of God and those who deliberately rejected or flaunted it. (He too calls it a “fire” in verse 49.)
This is properly the end of the historical progression of the book of Revelation. Chapter 21 pictures the New Jerusalem along with the new heavens and the new earth. Chapter 22 gives us a picture of the River of Life in the New Jerusalem with the Tree of Life on both sides of the river. Then we are given some closing words and timeless instruction for us today.
Revelation 22:1 and 2 says,
1 And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 in the middle of the street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
First, the KJV reads “pure river of water of life,” but the Greek texts do not include the word “pure.” Of course, this does not mean that the water is impure. It is a matter of correcting the translation as the NASB above has done.
Secondly, because the original Greek text had no punctuation and did not separate the words into verses, the KJV reads in verse 2: “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river was there the tree of life.” This is a strange contradiction, because it seems to say that the tree of life was in the middle of the street as well as on both sides of the river.
The NASB puts the period at the end of “street,” making it say that the water of life was flowing from the throne down the middle of the street. (See above.) The placement of the periods do make a difference in how we read and understand the passage, and this seems to make more sense.
Twelve Kinds of Fruit
The tree of life brings forth twelve kinds of fruit. The New Testament speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, nine of which are listed in Gal. 5:22, 23,
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Another two kinds of fruit are listed in Eph. 5:9,
9 for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth.
In this verse, “goodness” is a repeat from Gal. 5:22, so this makes eleven kinds of fruit. The final kind of fruit is sanctification (or holiness), found in Rom. 6:22. This makes a total of twelve kinds of fruit, listed in the New Testament, that we are to exhibit to the world.
The Tree of Life
The Bible begins with the Tree of Life and ends with it as well. Its most obvious feature (as indicated by its name) is that it is the source of Immortality, or Life. This function would be quite meaningless if we were to consider everyone to be already immortal. In fact, Adam and Eve were cut off from this Tree in Gen. 3:22-24 in order that they not receive immortality while yet in their sinful state.
Likewise, in Rev. 21:27 and 22:14 it is clear that only the righteous are to have access to this Tree of Life. The clear implication is that the unrighteous do not have immortality.
Soul and Spirit
Because the soul has been traditionally considered to be the seat of immortality in virtually every religion, the role and function of man’s spirit has been largely unknown. This has caused religions to venerate the soul, as if it were both immortal and capable of bringing men to perfection. The Greeks believed that the soul was spiritual, whereas the Hebrew scriptures tell us that the soul is connected to the flesh, rather than to the spirit.
Thus, the law says in Lev. 17:11, “the life [nephesh, ‘soul’] of the flesh is in the blood.” Another way of putting it is this: “the fleshly soul is in the blood.”
This law gives us the prohibition against drinking blood on the grounds that it is the residence of the soul. When Adam sinned, his soul was condemned to death, for we read in Ezekiel 18:4 says, “The soul who sins will die.”
In other words, the soul is the focal point of the problem of sin. The soul is the natural mind, or carnal mind, which we received as part of our inheritance from Adam. It is thus also the seat of death, or mortality.
There is no such thing as an immortal soul, at least not this side of the glory that is to come. Such a term is never used in the Bible, but is a theological and popular term borrowed from various religions.
The entire sacrificial system is based upon the practice of pouring out the blood upon the ground, rather than drinking it. Pouring out the blood is the same as pouring out one’s soul, for when Isaiah prophesies of Jesus’ great sacrifice on the cross, he says in Isaiah 53:12, “because He has poured out his soul [nephesh] unto death.” This alluded to the fact that the priest was to pour out the blood of the sacrifice upon the ground and cover it with dirt (Lev. 17:13).
Thus, Isaiah 53 makes it clear that the Messiah was to be a Sacrifice for sin and is connected to the sacrificial animals in the law of Moses. The soul of the animal was sacrificed for the souls of men, for Lev. 17:11 says, “I have given it [the blood] to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls.”
In the first few chapters of First Corinthians, Paul makes a clear distinction between soul and spirit. The Greeks thought that the seat of true virtue and knowledge rested in the soul (what Paul called the carnal mind, or the “old man”). Paul says that the “natural mind” (psuchikos, or “soulish” mind” cannot understand the things of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).
On the other hand, there is a “spirit of man” (1 Cor. 2:11) within each of us that truly knows every part of our being. In this way, our spirit is like the Spirit of God, which knows everything about God, Paul says.
Furthermore, we who have received the Spirit of God into our human spirit now have the capability of receiving the things of God—from the Spirit of God to our human spirit, which then is the Source, the great Library of Spiritual Knowledge that our souls may peruse to receive whatever knowledge and wisdom is needed for life.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God.
Insofar as immortality is concerned, the human spirit is the only seat of immortality, for it is never said to die, but to “return to God” (Eccl. 12:7). So also when Jesus died, He said, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46), and yet His soul went to hades, for we read in Acts 2:27, “Thou wilt not leave My soul in hades.”
I do not want to engage in a full discussion here on the state of the dead, but I do want to make the point that the seat of immortality is not the soul, but the spirit. The soul is connected to the flesh and is therefore “carnal,” or “fleshly.” The penalty for sin called for the death of the soul, and the sacrificial system manifested that principle by pouring out the blood and covering it with dust.
The spirit has a mind, just as the soul has a mind. They each have their own consciousness, capable of thought. When a man dies on the operating table and floats above himself, watching the doctors attempting to revive him, it is not the soul’s mind that is watching this procedure. It is the spiritual mind. The soul’s mind dies with the brain, because it is “fleshly,” and is therefore brain-dependent.
When we speak of “the real you,” we can mean either of two possibilities. You are either the person who is descended from Adam, which is the “old man” (Rom. 6:6), or you can identify with the new Man, which is Christ, the last Adam. By faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit comes into our Most Holy Place, which is our human spirit. This creates a new creature, a new man, the Manchild, or Christ in you, the Hope of Glory.
This new creature has a heavenly Father and an earthly mother and is therefore the offspring of BOTH heaven and earth. In that sense, it is like Jesus Himself, who set the pattern as both Son of God and Son of Man.
As a believer, “the real you” is that Person abiding in your spirit, your Most Holy Place, for you now live through your Offspring. That holy seed cannot sin, because as 1 John 3:9 tells us (Young’s Literal Transl.),
9 Everyone who hath been begotten of God, sin he doth not, because his seed in him doth remain, and he is not able to sin, because of God he hath been begotten.
In other words, that embryo (begotten son) has the seed of God in him, and it is incapable of sinning. This does not mean that you yourselves cannot sin, for Paul says in Rom. 7:18, “for I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” Yet Paul also says in verse 20,
20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
In this case, “I” is talking about that holy seed in Paul and in all believers. Paul identified himself with that holy seed, that new man that He is becoming—not the old man that is his Adamic flesh, which is very capable of sin. As believers, we have the right to identify with the new man and crucify the old man. While this is not a license to sin that grace may abound, it also provides us with the biblical reason why we ought not to wallow in guilt from past sins, or even to remain paralyzed by the current imperfection of the flesh.
This is basic to an understanding of our Christian walk, as well as giving us some knowledge of the difference between soul and spirit. We can only make that distinction by the Sword of the Word, for Heb. 4:12 says that this Sword is to be used to divide soul and spirit, even as the priest used to cut apart the bone and marrow of the sacrificial animals.
The Water of Life in Ezekiel
John’s vision of the water of life in Revelation 21 is similar to the one found in Ezekiel 47. Only by comparing the two can we get a better picture of this scene. Ez. 47:1,
1 Then He brought me back to the door of the house; and behold, water was flowing from under the threshold of the house toward the east, for the house faced east. And the water was flowing down from under the right side of the house from south of the altar.
The “house” is the temple, or the “House of the Lord.” Many have interpreted Ezekiel’s visions in chapters 40-48 in a carnal manner, as if to say that the Jews will soon build a temple on the old site in Jerusalem, where Jesus will live and reign on earth, much like a human monarch. Such people assume that the New Jerusalem is simply the old Jerusalem restored on the old location, a building made with wood, stones, and gold decorations. But John tells us in Rev. 21:22 about the New Jerusalem,
22 And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple.
So however we interpret it, one thing is clear: the temple is made of living stones (1 Peter 2:5) and is not physical as was Solomon’s temple.
It is from this temple that the river flows, according to Rev. 22:1. Ezekiel’s vision comes in a more local context that the people would understand, with a river flowing from Jerusalem’s temple to the Dead Sea. Flowing water was a vital commodity in the desert landscape, so no doubt the people of that day interpreted his vision in quite literal terms. They could not know the greater plan of God yet.
And yet Ezekiel’s river is miraculous in another way. The river is said to be only ankle deep at its source but becomes deeper as it flows across the desert until it is so deep and swift that it cannot be forded (47:5). This is, of course, the opposite of natural rivers. So this surely provides people with a clue that this is no ordinary river.
The Tree of Life
Ezekiel also tells us in verse 7,
7 Now when I had returned, behold, on the bank of the river there were very many trees on the one side and on the other.
In John’s vision in Rev. 22, it appears to be a single tree, although the Greek word, xulon, means “timber,” according to Strong’s Concordance. The primary word for a tree is dendron, used in verses such as Matt. 3:10.
Whether the trees are all one tree, or whether we are to view this as a “wood” or “forest,” is a matter of opinion, but it seems to me that John’s description of twelve kinds of fruit indicates many types of trees—all of which are collectively a Tree of Life. In Ezekiel 47:12 we read,
12 And by the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.
The “healing” is non-specific in this verse, but verses 8-10 make it clear that its primary purpose is to heal the Dead Sea and make it habitable for fish. Swarms of fish are a biblical symbol for life itself.
The Dead Sea Represents the Nations
Probably the most important factor to understand is that while Ezekiel sees the land of Canaan from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, John interprets it more universally. Ezekiel sees the river healing the Dead Sea, while John sees it healing the nations by means of the fruit-bearing trees.
In other words, the Dead Sea represents the nations of the world. The swarms of fish that are to be seen in the formerly “Dead” Sea now make it a Living Sea. If the Dead Sea represents the nations, then the fish represent the people of all nations.
Whereas the nations have dwelt in the realm of death, beginning with the sin of Adam, so also now will they be given life. The curse of death upon mankind that came through Adam’s sin will be annulled, even as John says in Rev. 22:3,
3 And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him.
The Nations and the Overcomers
God will maintain a distinction between the “bond-servants” of God and the “nations” who are healed and brought to life as swarms of fish. Of those bond-servants, we read in Rev. 22:4 and 5,
4 and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. 5 . . . and they shall reign for the ages of the ages [aionas ton aionian].
The overcomers are part of the temple of God and the New Jerusalem, where God saw fit to place His name after forsaking the old Jerusalem’s temple as Shiloh (Jer. 7:12-14). The New Temple is alive, because it is built of living stones upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ being the Chief Cornerstone (Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:5).
This distinction is necessary, because reigning would be meaningless if everyone was of equal rank and calling. The overcomers will be given authority over the nations—specifically those who did not believe in Christ during their life on earth. They administer the “lake of fire.”
Because authority and responsibility always go in equal measure, the overcomers will also be charged with the responsibility to teach and train those under them in the ways of God. Thus, the people of the nations will learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9) under the best teachers in the world, who are able to teach by example, even as Christ taught the disciples by example.
Who Will See His Face?
Revelation 1:7 says, “every eye will see Him.” This verse says nothing about WHEN every eye will see Him. It has been presumed that all will see Him at His second coming. I do not think this is the case. Most will have to see Him through those who manifest Him, even as the disciples saw the Father only through Jesus (John 14:9).
John says that the “bond-servants” will “see His face” (Rev. 22:4), because they will have access to the Most Holy Place. Only when the nations finally come into the glorious liberty of the children of God will they have direct access to Him in the same way as their glorified teachers.