As Scripture instructs, we must be adult in our understanding. But we must also cultivate what Luke records in the books of Acts when he says that the early Christians ate their bread with gladness and simplicity of heart. We may be refreshed with both when we come to understand how much of the water of life there actually is.
“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:10-13).
What God gives to His people, He gives according to promise. We should know enough about scriptural language that we do not think the dissolution of the old heavens and the old earth in this passage consists of a meltdown of the periodic table. What we mean by elements is not what they meant by elements. Peter’s word is stoicheia, which I would submit should be referred to the elementary gods, water, earth, wind and fire. Before redemption, mankind was in bondage to these elementals as Paul puts it in Gal 4:3-8. There is perhaps a reference to two of them in Eph 2:2 and Rev 14:18. We have now been set free from them – their power and authority has melted away.
But what does this passage mean positively? The interpretive key is found in Peter’s phrase “according to His promise.” Where were we promised a new heavens and a new earth? Where does the Old Testament talk about this? The answer to this question is Isaiah’s glory. At the great conclusion of the book of Isaiah, the prophet tells how reprobate Israelites would be rejected, and the Gentiles brought in. “I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ To a nation that was not called by My name. I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people (Is 65:1-2a). God promises to call His elect by another name – Christian, as it turns out – and the basis of this change is His promise. “For behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Is 65:15-17). This is where the promise was made, the one which Peter claimed (Is 66:22). But do not look for a simplistic fulfillment. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?'” (Is 66:1. We are the temple (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19), we are the living stones (1 Pet 2:4-5); we are the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:2,9).
When Jesus teaches us about living water, we should all have learned enough scriptural truth not to look in the bucket. This “water” is everlasting life (John 4:13-15); this “water” is the Holy Spirit of God (John 7:37-39). “But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” Most notably, Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But where does Scripture talk about rivers of living water?
“Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east . . . and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed . . . When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed . . . And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live . . . Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine” (Ezek 47:1-12).
This river of Ezekiel is the Spirit; it is everlasting life, and it flows out from underneath the threshold of the Christian Church. We see a great bridal city. The parallels between Ezekiel’s temple and the New Jerusalem make it clear they are a vision of the same thing – the holy Christian church. But how does John introduce his discussion of it? “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev 21:1). The last two chapters of the Revelation are a glorious description of a justified and perfect Church, with healing for the nations. “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 the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17). This water of life was not given to individuals so they could keep a thimbleful in their hearts. This is water that is meant to inundate the world.