In Ezekiel 47:1-12, the Lord gives His prophet a vision of water flowing out from the temple in Jerusalem. This imagery gives us a vivid, prophetic portrayal of the Spirit’s work in the church. We see what types of things should be happening when the Spirit is at work among the people of the Lord.
All churches should be longing for, cooperating with, and seeking more of the Spirit’s work among us. Yet what does that look like? Here are four brief encouragements this passage gives us.
When the Spirit is flowing, what is centralized becomes universalized.
By this time in Ezekiel’s prophesy, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. Yet in his vision he saw an idealized temple rebuilt with perfectly symmetrical measurements, with water that flowed out from its threshold. The water was heading eastward, in the direction Adam had been sent out from the garden of Eden. These waters flowed out into the desert into the Dead Sea, and brought this body of water – so full of salt nothing can live in it – alive. This pictures for us that the sin and death that Adam had caused to flow into the world will now be overcome by the life and power of the Spirit. Ezekiel was seeing the realization of Jesus’ words in John 7, when He cried out about how He would give life through His Spirit. “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.’”
A river flowing from Jerusalem out into the world, bringing life to formerly dead places, is exactly what we see in the book of Acts, is it not? The promise the ascending Lord gave in Acts 1:8 captures the history of the whole book. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” God took a church gathered in Jerusalem and sent it out to the ends of the earth. Similarly, when God’s Spirit is at work today, He takes churches from a centralized strength and, in a further step of fulfillment of the Great Commission, spreads their people, resources, and kingdom influence more widely.
Most clearly this is seen when the Lord stirs up a desire and commitment to church planting. As Tim Keller says:
The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else — not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.
When the Spirit is flowing, what is a trickle becomes a mighty river.
In verses 3-6 of this passage, the angel took Ezekiel in 1000-cubit increments away from the source of the water in the temple. Every 1000 cubits they went, the water became deeper – first ankle-deep, then knee-deep, then waist-deep, and then finally over-his-head-swimming deep! This phenomenon Ezekiel saw is the opposite of what would happen naturally to water, as the further away from its source water goes it spreads and becomes more shallow. Yet here the river eventually became so deep and powerful Ezekiel could not have swum across it even if he wanted to do so. Even the angel is astonished, saying, “Son of man, have you seen this?”
The denomination in which I serve has witnessed this phenomenon. Our little church sent missionaries to a nation in east Asia in the late 1800’s through 1950, when they were eventually driven out because of the Communist takeover. The American church lost contact with this church for half a century. Yet in the last decade some communication has been restored. We have discovered that the people in congregations and presbyteries there now greatly outnumber our own denomination. What a joy it is to hear of the Spirit’s work in this way! When God’s people are moved by His Spirit to give of themselves in seemingly small sacrifices, the Spirit multiplies them into great and mighty works.
When the Spirit is flowing, what is empty becomes filled.
In verse 10 of this chapter, Ezekiel saw a wonderful picture of fishing taking place on the shores of the Dead Sea. Again, this sea would have been the last place anyone would have ever gone on a fishing trip! Never would there have there been fish caught there, but Ezekiel saw an abundance being brought in. Clearly, Ezekiel was seeing the work of Jesus, who came to fulfill this imagery. From the beginning of his ministry, when Jesus told his disciples to stop fixing their empty nets and said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men;” to its end, where after His resurrection He filled the empty nets of the disciples who had been fishing all night, Jesus promised His followers they would see people converted by the Spirit and brought into His kingdom.
When the Spirit is flowing, conversions of those formerly outside the faith increase dramatically. The church should long for a greater filling of the Holy Spirit, asking the Lord to lead it in ways where this will occur. Iain Murray, in his teaching on true revival, has defined revival in this very manner. Revival is “an outpouring of the Holy Spirit resulting in a new degree of life in the churches and a widespread movement of grace among the unconverted. It is an extraordinary communication of the Spirit of God, a superabundance of the Spirit’s operations, an enlargement of His manifest power.” We should pray that our children would grow up in churches where they see God working mightily in bringing people out of the Dead Seas of this world into the life of the church.
When the Spirit is flowing, people who are hurting become healed.
On the banks of this river, Ezekiel saw trees that never withered and never stopped producing fruit. In verse 12, the fruit from these trees feed people and their leaves bring healing to them. Again, this is just the opposite of what happened when Adam ate from the tree, as mankind was thrust into its spiritual famine and soul suffering.
Often claims of the Spirit’s activity are made by those with flashy ministries who are plundering the people of God, who in turn hurt one another with their actions. Yet when the Spirit of God is flowing, His gracious, healing work brings greater love, peace, gentleness, and joy among the people of God. In seeking revival, we should be praying and working toward this end as well. The healing of brokenness and pain should be seen.
For indeed this will be the end the church will be brought to by the Spirit. For let us remember how the Bible ends in Revelation 22:1-2, with this picture from Ezekiel being fully experienced by the glorified church.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.