As we approach the end of Revelation, Babylon is fallen and the dragon is cast away forever. And now, with no obstacle remaining, “the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.” (19:7) Christ the Lamb will be finally and perfectly united to his people. And John sees the new heavens, the new earth, and the new Jerusalem descending from one to the other “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (21:2) A voice calls out from the throne of God that pain, mourning, crying, and even death itself are no more. Those are old things, and now every tear is wiped away.
Then John sees a river. The prophet Ezekiel had a similar vision, seeing water trickling out of the front of the Jerusalem temple. Ezekiel follows the water into the wilderness for distance and it comes up to his ankles. A distance farther and it comes up to his knees. Then his waist. Finally, Ezekiel has waded far enough into the water that he can’t walk at all and must swim. What started as a modest trickling is now a robust, flowing river that crosses the whole wilderness to empty into the Dead Sea, making it not so dead anymore. Now Ezekiel hops out of the water only to notice that while he was focused on the water itself, trees were springing up left and right along both river banks, trees with leaves that bring healing.
As John describes his vision in Revelation 21, he includes the one thing he doesn’t see: a temple, because in the new Jerusalem, “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (21:23) So the river John sees flowing throughout the city (and with leaves that bring healing for all nations) isn’t trickling from the temple, but directly from the very throne of God. The life-giving water that God freely dispenses needs no mediator. In the new heavens and new earth, we experience God’s presence, glory, and healing directly and constantly, without interruption, without any middle man.
Revelation has made us to endure some strange and, at times, troubling images throughout its narrative. But it was all for the sake of finally bring us here, to the unmediated presence of God, to the wiping away of every last tear, and to the free gift of water that ends all thirst. Whatever shape our personal stories are currently taking, whatever pain, grief, and hardship we have borne and will bear in the future, this is where our story is headed – to the river that brings healing to all nations, to the marriage, the perfect union of Christ and his people.
Can we make this story our story? Can we place all our victories and failures within the story of the Lamb’s victory over Babylon and the dragon? Can we place all our hurt within the story that culminates in the wiping away of every tear? This is what Revelation is inviting us to do, to see what our story really is and the one who is really writing it.