“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… The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Revelation 22:1-2, 17)
This past summer, my family traveled north to visit our family in Pennsylvania. My wife’s folks live in Jonestown, Pennsylvania, deep in the heart of the state’s Appalachians – literally in the shadow of a great mountain that stretches from horizon to horizon. Ever since Terri and I started dating, some 26 years ago, I have loved visiting her parent’s area, both because of seeing family and because of seeing the mountains. And so every time we visit, I love to walk the lonely roads and just look. This past summer was no different. And as I walked, eventually the road took me over an old familiar rise, and there was the sight I had been looking for; there, with Jonestown mountain towering behind it as a backdrop was the little mountain church grandma and grandpa had attended- they’re buried in its churchyard. A number of times, I have stood near that church, or even just pictured it in my mind from far away, and thought to myself ‘What a beautiful sight.’ Even though it’s not my “home”, the sight makes me feel homesick, because it’s been a part of my experience for so long that I feel a sense of belonging there. Isn’t it odd to think about being homesick for a place you’ve never really known as home? The other day as I was reading the verses before us from Revelation 22, I suddenly found myself crying, and as I asked myself why, I realized it was because I was homesick for heaven. I’m convinced that the apostle John, and indeed the Lord Himself, want us to have that longing as we read the words. Longing makes the heart grow fonder and gives us hope. Let’s look at the verses and see what sort of lovely hope awaits us, friend.
We’re told that the river which flows from God’s throne and down the main street of Jerusalem is the “river of the water of life.” He describes this river as “bright as crystal”; you can just picture the sparkling waters, can’t you? Indeed, in the last verses, Jesus bids us “come take of the water of life without price.” And yes, I’m aware that elsewhere Jesus links the “living water” to the work of the Holy Spirit, saying that when he gives living water it will “become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. (John 4:14) I take this to mean that the Spirit is the source of life, but I don’t think it means there isn’t a real, genuine, river in heaven whose waters bring life (by the power of God’s Spirit, I would assume.) I don’t think the river is symbolic, as Ezekiel had a similar vision with the very same river coming from God’s throne. And in Ezekiel’s vision, not only are people blessed by the life giving water, but the earth itself and the seas as well. The waters God has in mind bring new life to his creation. Jesus bids us be quenched. Our refreshment with this new life begins now as we trust Christ and receive his Spirit, but it finds its fulfillment in Glory.
We’re told that the Tree of Life grows on the banks of this river, and John speaks both of its fruit which is good to eat and of its leaves which bring healing to the nations. The tree, which makes its first appearance in Scripture in Genesis 2, again seems to be tied to eternal life; Adam and Eve are banned from the garden, and God drives them away “lest he …take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever…” (Genesis 3:22). Something about the tree makes it good to eat, healthy, and healing. And of course, friend, if you’ve believed Christ, you’ve already tasted salvation and have eternal life. But isn’t it interesting to know that God has planted a tree in heaven whose fruit will bless you, and whose leaves will bring healing to the world?
And most of all the Word tells us that in heaven we will be with the Lord (John 14:3). Probably the greatest pleasure of what waits for us will be the grace of being with the Lord himself- of seeing him with our eyes, of hearing him with our ears, of enjoying his physical presence every bit as much as we enjoy his spiritual presence with us now. Along with this, we have the promise (I Thessalonians 4:17) that we will also enjoy the company of those others who have believed.
And so, the Lord himself bids us to come. Are you thirsty? Jesus bids you come. Friend, drink his grace now; believe on him for forgiveness and life. And then one day, you will find yourself on the banks of that great river, drinking to heart’s content. You will find yourself whole complete, and a better person than you’ve ever been. You will find yourself warmed to the soul by the presence of the Son. And you will be feeling more at home than you ever have.