Revelation 22:1-2 “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.”
John paints a picture for us here. That is how the book of Revelation is presented, in symbols and pictures. The very first verse of the book tells us that God “sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.” In this book God wants to tell us about things and events that are real, but he uses signs and symbols to do so. It’s not always easy to know when we are looking at symbol, or when he is talking about the reality behind it. So it is when the Lord describes “the river of the water of life” in heaven.
There is no reason to think that heaven couldn’t have a river like the one John sees in his vision. But the real message is to be found in the way in which the river is described. This is the river of the water of life. Our life in heaven with God fills us with happy anticipation because there he is giving life to his people. Note how the waters of this river of life are described: “clear as crystal.” These life giving waters are pure and unpolluted. That is profoundly different from the life we know now.
Our sins pollute life as we know it. That is no small problem. We act as though our sins will make little difference in our lives. Often we think they will actually make an improvement. Why do we lie instead of taking responsibility for a mistake? Because we think that life will be a little better if we don’t have to take the heat. Why do we pepper our speech with curses and vulgarities when there are perfectly wholesome words we can use? Because we think that we will sound a little stronger, and people will take us a little more seriously, if we do.
Truth is, sin is a deadly pollution to our lives. It never delivers the better life it promises. You know how lies can snowball and trap you. You know that gutter language makes us out to be little more than bullies, or incapable of intelligent thought. In the end we lose more respect than we gain with our obscenities. But those consequences are small compared to the real poison of sin. “The wages of sin is death.”
If sin and death go together, so do purity and life. Already now Jesus has forgiven our sins by his perfect life and innocent death on the cross. Our polluted stream of life has been purified. How does Paul say it? “Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without any stain, or wrinkle, or blemish, but holy and blameless.” Though we may continue to pollute our lives with sin, God’s grace and forgiveness keeps on filtering the deadly poison away. He declares us holy and righteous through faith, and that gives us life.
In heaven, the pollution has stopped altogether. The water of life that God gives us is “clear as crystal.” Where there is no sin, there is no death. Where there is life, real life, there is holiness. Purity will no longer be an unattainable goal. It will be an inseparable and unending part of the life that God gives us. Its waters will leave us eternally refreshed, eternally clean–forever free of the embarrassment, shame, guilt, and fear that spoil our lives and the death that ends it. God’s home is a blessed place, because the life he gives to his people is unpolluted, like the river in John’s vision.