The river of life
Ezekiel had been given a vision, and it was presented to him by the Lord Himself. Scripture says (Ezekiel 40: 2-3) that the hand of God carried Ezekiel to a very high mountain, where a man appeared to him "whose appearance was like bronze." John, exiled on the island of Patmos, saw this same man whose "feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace" (Rev 1: 15).
The man in both passages was none other than Christ. He brought Ezekiel to the door of the house of God and there He gave the prophet an amazing vision of the future of the church. This vision revealed what the body of Christ would become, as the final days of time on earth would unfold and draw to a close. The vision confirms that in the last days there would be a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit all over the world. This vision and the size of God outpouring were so awesome that, at the time, Ezekiel himself could not comprehend it nor comment on it's meaning.
In fact, halfway into this prophetic vision, the Lord stops, turns to Ezekiel and asks him "do you see this?" (v. 6). It is as if the Lord is saying to him: "Do you understand the greatness of what you see? Are you able to grasp the prophetic power of this vision? Do you see what the rising of the water is speaking of? Do you see His glory coming? It is so awesome, so mind-boggling that I don't want you to miss the true meaning of this revelation."
As I read this chapter, the Holy Spirit stopped me at this very same verse and would not let me go any further. The Spirit of God put to me the same question He asked Ezekiel: "Do you understand that this is the great prophecy from the very throne of God about the church of the last days? Do you understand the meaning of the rising of the river?"
The vision must have astonished Ezekiel and, though it is not recorded, I am convinced that he did not understand it. The Old Testament prophets had a limited vision of Christ. Jesus said in Mat 13: 17: "I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it." But Jesus encourages His disciples soon after by saying, "Listen then..." In other words, make sure you are listening to what I'm saying! Make sure you see it! Above all, make sure you don't miss it! But just what is it that the Lord reveals in His prophetic vision that it's applicable to each one of us?
First of all Jesus shows Ezekiel that there is going to be an ever increasing outpouring of the Holy Spirit. What Ezekiel is being shown is that the church of the very last days will be more glorious, more holy, and more victorious than in all of its history. The church of Jesus Christ will go out at the end of time in a blaze of power and glory, enjoying the fullest revelation of Jesus that man has ever known.
The true church of Jesus Christ is not going to weaken and sputter! It is not going to dwindle in numbers or decrease in power and spiritual authority! "There will be large numbers of fish" Jesus reveals to Ezekiel (Ez 47: 9). Coming forth is a body of believers who will be swimming in the rising waters of the Lord's presence. The knowledge and the presence of Jesus will increase until the end of times. The church of Jesus Christ will not be defeated but will be a beautiful bride ready for her groom.
What Ezekiel saw, as this vision opened, was a trickle of water "coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east...the water was coming down from the south side of the temple, south of the altar...and the water was flowing from the south side." This is the image of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was given to the disciples. It was given to them with a promise, that it was to be a river of life, springing up to flow out into all the world. Jesus said that "He that believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water... By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive" (John 7: 38-39).
Let me ask you at this point: are you grasping the time we live in? Are you understanding what this vision means for each one of us? Do you comprehend the great and exciting time that God is preparing for us? Are you preparing yourself for the greatest outpouring of His Holy Spirit? Listen friends, if this river of living water is the Holy Spirit, then Pentecost - with all its glory, power and manifestations - was just the beginning of the trickle of the glory of God! Peter announced that this water would start flowing, as promised by the Lord, at the beginning of the last days. And as the river of living water flows, it grows! It expands in depth, in width, in volume, in power and in restoration glory! You see, Peter and the 120 disciples had only water up to their ankles; but God wants us to be fully immersed in the river! Friends the river of God is here, the Lord is here and it's time we start to realize that we are in the river! It's time we start to swim into the glory of God!
The church had been persecuted for many years when the Roman emperor Constantine came to power. Constantine released all the Christian ministers who had been enslaved and proclaimed Christianity the religion of the empire. Yet, it was during those early centuries of persecution that the church grew greatly in its knowledge of Scripture and revelation of Jesus Christ. Those persecuted saints enjoyed water to the knees!
Martin Luther, the great German reformer, was another who brought the body of Christ to a new realm of faith. The water during the Reformation period rose to the loins as the church grew in a greater revelation of the Cross. This led to a deeper knowledge of the power of God. All of a sudden great masses of people were being baptized and coming into a greater revelation of salvation by faith in Christ Jesus. Churches were filled with people committed to work for the house of the Lord, rushing into cathedrals to tear down all the idols and graven images.
The second thing that Jesus is showing Ezekiel is that the river of life will crest just prior to the Lord's coming again. This is foretold in the vision when God took the prophet on an amazing trip. With a measuring rod in His hand the Lord walked off 1,000 cubits, about one third of a mile. At this distance, Ezekiel and the Lord walked in the water, and the flow was ankle high. Ezekiel says "He lead me through the waters" (v. 3); the Lord himself led him and the lord himself is leading us. The Lord kept urging him on, calling him to come on into deeper water, just a bit further.
After another 1,000 cubits the water came up to their knees and was still rising. Friends, what Ezekiel was doing was to walk into the future, right into our time! Today we live in the last 1,000 cubits of this vision, the very last measurement of this water. Ezekiel stepped to the edge of it, he could not go any further. The water was too deep for him, too overwhelming. He said, "it was a river I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in" (v. 5). In essence he was saying this water is over my head! It is so deep that I can only swim in it!
Can you imagine the prophet's wonder, as he must have asked the Lord: "What is this huge river that has risen? If this river is all about life and resurrection, who are the ones who will be so blessed that they can swim in such power and glory?" Let me tell you: if you think we have experienced an abundant presence of Jesus, if you have been satisfied by the present revelation of the Father, if you think you have been filled to capacity by the Holy Spirit, you have seen nothing yet! You have seen nothing yet in comparison to the increase that is coming for the righteous! Jesus is going to open our eyes and wonderfully appear in our midst in all His glory! He will reveal Himself and pour upon us as much of His life as we can possibly bear with our mortal bodies!
The prophet Isaiah had a glimpse of this same prophetic river. He also saw something else though: in the last days the church will come under a tremendous attack of Satan. But equally, the church will enjoy great protection against the attacks of any enemy forces. In Is 33: 21 we read in fact "No galley with oars...no mighty ship will pass by." He is speaking of slave-driven warships. This is a picture of the enemy trying to launch an attack upon those who are swimming in great waters. And it's a picture of total confusion. Satan is barking commands, but no one of his followers is listening, nothing is working! The enemy forces can't even spread the sail to launch the warship. All the demon-slave oarsmen sit there in the midst of confusion, unable even to understand the commands of their master! Let me tell you friends: the living waters are off-limits to Satan!
The third thing that Jesus is showing Ezekiel is that a time is coming when unprecedented numbers will be revived from spiritual death because "where the river flows, everything will live." When Ezekiel returned to the bank of the river, he stood astonished. He looked back and saw "a great number of trees" on both sides of the river. These trees had been given life from the river! They had leaves that never faded and their fruit brought healing. Life had sprung up everywhere because of the river.
Yet, even though this river of God will bring life wherever it goes, the last days will also see a corresponding flood of death. Aids and drugs are a modern sea of destruction and multitudes are dying because of them. The Bible also warns that scoffers will come, mocking the message of Christ's imminent return, putting to death expectancy and hopeful love. Jesus said, "the love of many will grow cold" (Mat 24: 12). Paul warned us that "evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Tim 3: 13). In other words, morals will die and sin will abound while false prophets will spread doctrines of death.
In China it looked as though the church may have dyed. The enemy had driven believers underground and for years there was no word coming out of that country. Western Christians had no idea whether the church there was still surviving. But thank God, the river could not be stopped! It was rising all the time. And now we know that millions of Chinese people are swimming in the river of life. As Ezekiel prophesied "where the river flows, everything will live" (v. 9).
Even as we consider London or Putney itself we find wickedness and sin and death. Many people are dying of Aids or overdose or violence. Many lives are being ruined by abuse and by the terrible sins they are committing. It seems that we are living in a time and a place where we have lost control of things, where moral standards have been completely abandoned.
But, despite all this, the Holy Spirit has dug a well in London, here in Putney. The Holy Spirit is flowing over this place and the river is rising. Jesus is going to do amazing things which will leave the world confounded. Amidst all the sinfulness and confusion in the world around us, God is revealing His holiness and righteousness. Let me tell you friends: the arts and the media world cannot keep the river out of this territory! The financial markets cannot keep out the river of life! Nor can the government stop the river from flowing! Immoral practices and idolaters cannot keep it out! Nor can stuffy and dead churches keep it out! Friends, it's time we realize that the river is rising, the river is here and everything will live where the river goes. Everything that the river will touch will live!
The river is now flowing at flood tide throughout many former communist countries. Life in Christ is springing up all over the world and like never before masses of people are turning to Christ. In South America alone it is reckoned that about 1,000 people are coming to Christ every hour. What about this country, this place? What about our families, our friends, our colleagues? I don't know how the Lord is going to do all this. But if He says that the river will rise and bring life to all it touches even here in this locality, I believe it! If God says that this church will grow to 50,000 people I don't know how is going to do it; but if He says that rivers of joy will come out of us and change this community, I believe it! If God can wipe communism in one year, if God can wipe cancer in a second can He not do this as well?
The fourth and final thing that Jesus shows Ezekiel is that "the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt" (v. 11). These are mud puddles, swamps full of dirt and mire. The river flows over them, yet they are not healed. Eventually the river passes by and leaves them so dry that they turn to salt, a symbol of rebellion and barrenness.
Salt marshes represent those who feel deeply but do not really change. They cry and act holy; but in reality they do not change and they do not obey. They make promises and resolutions but do not follow them through. Isaiah says that "the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud" (Is 57: 20).
These people profess Christianity and have been inundated with the gospel truths. They have had the Holy Spirit fill them up at some stage and woe them to Him; but they remain unchanged. They have been in the river and for a time they have swam in it; but they haven't allowed its life to enter their innermost being. As a result they are not what they appear to be. What flows out of their bellies is a stream of gossip, insincere flatteries, lies and distortions. They are not true life-givers. All about them is self-pity, self-centredness and self-gratification. They are often bitter, continually complaining and questioning and rebelling against God-given authority.
Ezekiel must have been amazed by such pockets of death. Life was springing up on all sides but these pockets of death remained barren and white with dryness. Peter calls them "wells without water" (2 Pet 2: 17). How did they get this way, so empty, dry and cut off from the life-giving river? Because, says Peter, "They walk after the flesh...they are presumptuous...self willed...they speak against God ordained authority... they speak evil of the things they know nothing about, they are entangled with the world and have been overcome... they have turned from the holy commandments once delivered to them" (2 Pet 2: 10-21). The real tragedy is that most of these dry wells were once fountains of living water!
It is time friends that we let God fill our belly with His living water, with His river of life. A flood of revelation of Jesus Christ, of blessing from the Father and of power through the Holy Spirit is on its way. The river is flowing, the river is here! Do you grasp the vision that God wants you and I to be part of? Ezekiel could not understand it; it was too awesome for him. The Old Testament prophets could not see it either. But through the Holy Spirit God has given us eyes to see His exceeding greatness. Now one thing only remains: you can either come into the river or you can be a dry well. What are you going to chose today? Are you going to close yourself in your pride and arrogance or are you going to allow God to fill you? Are you going to remain in your barrenness and self-centredness or are you going to be filled with His Spirit so that rivers of life can come out of your belly? Are you going to watch on the riverbank or are you going to come into into the river and swim into the glory of God?