It’s normally a bad sign when water is streaming out under a doorway in your house. It’s normally a cause for alarm and a quick call to the plumber. But not this time.
Ezekiel was in God’s house, taking a tour of the heavenly temple (Ezek. 40-49). His tour guide had measured out for him the length and breadth and height, he had shown Ezekiel the plan for the courts and doors and furniture…all of it related to the temple of the old covenant but also purposefully pointing toward heaven in its fantastical proportions and differences from Solomon’s temple. Ezekiel had seen the glory of God return to the temple–the same glory he had years before seen leave (Ezek. 10). The tour guide told him how all the land of the new Israel was going to be divided. The tour was given slowly, with great detail.
But then he brought Ezekiel to the door of the temple and it came to life. What was a static description became a participatory parable as Ezekiel sees a trickle of water flowing out from under the door of the temple. Together, they followed the trickle out of the temple as it headed south. They walked for a quarter mile and crossed the river that was up to their ankles. They walked a little more and crossed knee-deep. More still and the water was waist deep. A final quarter mile or so and the river was impassable.
“Have you seen this?” the tour guide asked Ezekiel. Which seems a funny question to ask, since Ezekiel is now soaked up to his waist. But what he really meant was, “Do you understand what you’re seeing?” Without any tributaries or underground springs, this river will continue to grow and deepen. It is a miraculous river.
They looked up, watching the river into the distance. Ezekiel’s guide informed him that the river will run through the desert all the way to the “sea.” Not just any sea, but the Dead Sea. And then, finally, the Dead Sea will meet its match: “when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.” Where it goes, this river would bring life out of death. Trees of fruit will spring up, life will swarm, fish will abound.
Ezekiel understood, as would the faithful among the exiles. This was no mere water feature of an interesting house tour. This was the river that flowed in all four directions out from the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:10). Eden was the center of the world, the first temple where God dwelt with his people. As the God-dwelling center, it was to be the source of blessing to the whole world. Hence the rivers.
The river that began to flow from Eden, despite the brokenness of the world, would not ultimately be dammed. Ezekiel and other prophets foretold of the river flowing again. While maybe sometimes flowing underground, the river of life that began on the first page of Scripture appears in glory on the last page as well, when John takes the same tour Ezekiel had and sees the “river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb,” (Rev. 22:1) complete with the fruit of the tree of life.
Lest it remain simply a beautiful curiosity, Jesus makes certain we understand. As the priests ceremonially poured out water from the healing pools during the feast of booths, he cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive…” (Jn. 7:37-38).
The river of life is the life of Jesus through the Spirit for those who believe. It is the life of Jesus that flows through His brothers and sisters into the world, bringing life wherever it goes. It is the “already” blessing you may know through Christ and the “not yet” picture of being perfectly blessed in the eternal presence of God. The river of life that flows now will deepen and strengthen for all eternity!
Whether for the first or thousandth time, come with me to the river. Let us wade, swim and drown in its life. Let’s see the desert flourish and the world’s death teem with life. Let us drink and never thirst again.