River of Water of Life (Revelation 22:1, 17)


It is important to recall here that immediately following the judgment on Babylon, the new heavens and earth are created (Rev. 21:1f).  It is here, after the new creation, that John is able to see into the “heavenly unseen realm” this new Jerusalem which had descended, within which he sees this beautiful life giving River of Life (Rev. 22:1).  The promise of this River of Life is inextricably linked with the fulfillment of promises given to the Old Covenant prophets.  Failure to understand this will destroy any hope of properly interpreting the Apocalypse.

In the Old Covenant, the River of Life flows from the judgment of Old Covenant Israel:

1.) In Isaiah 35:4-10, the River flows at the coming of the Lord in vengeance.  Patently this cannot be referent to Jesus’ incarnation when, “He will not quarrel nor cry out…a bruised reed He will not break” (Matt. 12:19-20).  It is a reference to His judgment coming.  In Luke 21:22, Jesus said of His coming in judgment against Jerusalem, “these be the days of vengeance when all things that are written must be fulfilled.”

2.) In Joel 3, the fountain of cleansing is opened in Jerusalem after the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord (Joel 2:30-32, 3:14-18).  In Matthew 24:29-31, 34, Jesus quotes Joel, and says it would be fulfilled in His coming against Jerusalem in His generation.

3.) In Zechariah 13:1, the fountain for the cleansing of Israel would be opened in the day when, “they will look on me whom they have pierced,” (12:10) the day when there would be “great mourning in Jerusalem.”  Jesus quotes from Zechariah 12:10 in Matthew 24:30, in His prediction of judgment against Jerusalem.

4.) In Zechariah 14:1-8, Jerusalem would be pillaged and captured in the Day of the Lord.  The references to “in that day” absolutely limit the references to the full consummation of the River of Life (v. 8) to the time of the siege of Jerusalem and the Lord’s deliverance of the remnant of believing Israel which would be gathered by His angels along with the believing Gentiles (Matt. 24:31; 1 Thess. 4:15-17; 1 Cor. 15:51-52).



Zechariah 14 is significant for the study of the River of Life, and the identity of Babylon.  Carrington says that besides Ezekiel, Zechariah has influenced the Apocalypse more than any other book.  Zechariah’s prediction of the coming of the Lord in chapter 14 is important.

There has always been widespread belief that Zechariah 14 predicted the AD 70 Parousia of Jesus.  The early Christian writers applied this chapter to Jerusalem’s demise (Eusebius, called the father of church history, says Zechariah 14 predicted, “the final siege of the people by the Romans, through which the whole Jewish race has become subject to their enemies.” Proof of the Gospel, Vol. I, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1981)98.).  The Second Coming Bible says Cyril and Theophylact held the view (William Beiderwolf, The Second Coming Bible, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1972)304.).  Hengstenberg also cites Jerome, and “several others, particularly of the fathers,” who applied Zechariah “to the captivity by the Romans.” (W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1970) 381).  Merrill Unger, millennial writer, acknowledged that Zechariah’s prophecy was applied to AD 70 by “many early writers.” (Merrill F. Unger, Zechariah: Prophet 0/ Messiah’s Glory, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1974)238-239.).  The respected Methodist scholar Adam Clarke said, “This appears to be a prediction of that war in which Jerusalem was finally destroyed, and the Jews scattered over the face of the earth.” (Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. IV,  (Abingdon)794.).  Terry says Zechariah spoke of the AD 70 coming of the Lord (Milton Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1988) 166f.).  Gentry, in the modern apology for post-millennialism, has an excellent discussion advocating the AD 70 application for Zechariah’s prediction. (Dominion, 468-472).

Clearly, Zechariah 14 has a strong tradition of application to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.  Unless one can show that scripture posits the opening of two Rivers of Life, at the time of two different comings of the Lord against two different cities, then the relationship between Zechariah 14 and Revelation is firmly established. 

To further prove this relationship, the next chart will show the correspondence between Revelation and Zechariah 14.

Destruction of Jerusalem (v. 1-3) Fall of city where the lord was crucified (11:8)
Escape possible (v. 5) Come out of her my people lest you partake of her plagues (18:4)
Coming of the lord (v. 5) Coming of the Lord (Chpts 14, 19)
Time of light (vs. 6-7) No need of sun (21:23)
Lord shall be king (v. 9) God on the throne (22:3)
No more curse (v. 11) No more curse (22:3-4)
River of life flows from Jerusalem (v. 8) River of life flows from Jerusalem (22:1-5)
Nations come to Jerusalem (v. 16f) Nations come to Jerusalem (21:26-27)

With this relationship established, the reference to the revealing and full consummation of the River of Life has a bearing on the identity of Babylon, and our view of Revelation.  The River of Life would descend and be fully consummated as a result of Babylon’s judgment (Rev. 18:1 – 22:3).  The River of Life would descend and be fully consummated as a result of Jesus’ coming against Jerusalem (Zech. 14:1-8).  Therefore, Babylon was Jerusalem.

The River would descend and be revealed and flow from the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Old Covenant fathers (Jer. 17:12-13; Isa. 12:3, 30:25, 35:6-7, 49:10; Ezek. 47:1-12; Joel 3:18; Zech. 14:8; Rom. 15:8).  John said Revelation was the anticipation of what the prophets had foretold (Rev. 10:7), and the time of fulfillment was “at hand” (Rev. 22:6-12).  Any attempt to remove the River of Life from the fulfillment of the promises given to the Old Covenant prophets is improper.


“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb.”

As John continues to look about the city, he sees a crystal clear river flowing through the center of the street and originating at “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev. 22:1).

Isaiah declares that YHWY Himself is the River:

“Look upon Zion, the city of our appointed feasts; your eyes shall see Jerusalem an undisturbed habitation … But there the majestic One, the Lord, shall be for us a place of rivers and wide canals on which no boat with oars shall go, and on which no mighty ship shall pass (Isa. 33:20-21).

And Jesus announces that the River is the Spirit of God:

“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'”  But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39).

As John looks upon Zion, the heavenly country and New Jerusalem he can see the fulfilled promise of the Lord in Isaiah 51:3:

“For the Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the Lord; Joy and gladness will be found in it, Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.”

In Revelation 22:1 we find the perfected antitype reference to the original creation, in which a river flowed from Eden, dividing into four branches outside the garden, carrying water [life] to distant lands (Gen. 2:10-14).



“And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let him take of the water of life freely.” (The fulfillment of Zech. 14:8)

Remember, this verse is spoken after the seventh angel and the kingdoms of this world have come back under the Lord and His Christ (Rev. 11:15).  This verse is after the judgment and destruction of Babylon (Rev. 19:2).  This is spoken after the marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9).  This verse is after the millennium (Rev. 20:4).  This verse is after the creation of the “new heavens and earth” and the coming down of the heavenly Jerusalem and God dwelling with man (Rev. 20:1-3).  This verse was given after the full consummation of the heavenly city which came down in which the pure river of life flows from the throne of God, the Tree of Life grows and bears fruit, and the leaves are for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:1-2).

This verse is spoken after all of these things à this verse is the result of the full consummation of all of these things!  This is the everlasting gospel call we are to declare for all time as we bring this gospel to the nations, for the healing of the nations.  This is the forever call of the Eternal never ending, ever increasing, Kingdom of Jesus Christ!

In no way would this verse make any sense if it was after some end of the world when all is supposed to be destroyed and there are only Christians left in some new heavens and earth.  No, this verse is clearly stating that life is still continuing on earth with people who are invited to come and drink and receive life freely (salvation).  This was not about the end of the call to salvation – it was about the beginning of the consummation of the forever salvation call to go forth to the nations.


See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:

Tree of Life (Revelation 22:2)

Heavens and Earth (New)

Heavens and Earth (Prophecy)


Related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):

[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 10 Rev. Chapter 22”]