The Millennial River

(Ezekiel 47)


A key test for whether a person interprets the prophetic Word literally is the river that is described in Ezekiel 47 and in other places in the Old Testament.  This amazing river will originate from the house of the LORD (compare Joel 3:18) as a very shallow stream. Gradually the stream will get deeper and fuller until it is over a man's head.  It eventually travels east until it empties into the Dead Sea which will then be a terrible misnomer because the waters of the Dead Sea will be turned into fresh water teeming with fish (see Ezekiel 47:1-10).  It will be the Living Sea!


In Zechariah 14:8 we learn that half of this river will empty into the Dead Sea and half of the river will empty into the Mediterranean Sea.   This river is also mentioned in Psalm 46:4 (and notice the context in Psalm 46:9-10 which clearly speaks of the kingdom).


Manfred Kober has provided the following illustration of the future topography of the Holy Land showing this amazing river of life flowing into the two great seas:



The descriptions of this river are as literal as literal can be.  There are clear geographical references made in connection with this river (Ezek. 47:8-10).  There are exact distances and depths measured out (Ezek. 47:3-5).  The details concerning this river are very descriptive:  it flows into the sea (Dead Sea) and the waters become fresh which once was the saltiest body of water on earth. There will be many varieties of fish in a body of water where fish formerly could never live.  Fishermen will stand beside it and there will be the spreading of nets.  Are we to reject this whole description and spiritualize it and give it some strange meaning according to our own fancy, or should we take it at face value?


When people depart from a literal interpretation they deny the plain sense and they give the text some other sense according to their own lively imagination. It is almost humorous to read the commentaries and see how people spiritualize this river and make it mean whatever they want it to mean.  Some say it refers to the "stream of church history."  Others say it refers to going deeper in the Christian life ("ankle-deep Christians," etc.).  Some think it refers to water baptism.  Some say it refers to "vitality flowing forth from Holy Ground," etc. When all else fails, why don't we just let it say what it says?  Does God really mean what He says or do we need to take what God says and force our own meaning upon it?


The river is directly connected to the house of the LORD (Ezek. 47:1-2; Joel 3:18), so if a person rejects the literalness of this river they must also reject the literalness of the temple which is described in Ezekiel chapters 40-48.  Actually the three (the temple, the river and the animal sacrifices) must stand or fall together.  See the study Do You Interpret the Bible Literally?  Six Tests to See if You Do.


The following description of this amazing future river is provided by Manfred Kober (taken from Chapter 31 of the book, Basic Theology:  Applied, Wesley & Elaine Willis and John & Janet Master (Victor Books, 1995), pages 287-290:


The River of Life: Zechariah 14:8; Ezekiel 47:1-12

Woven throughout Old Testament prophecy is a constant theme of spectacular physical and geographical changes to occur when Christ returns. Zechariah 14 describes many features of this upheaval, including a new river to flow from Jerusalem into the desert (Zech. 14:8).

The Prophet Ezekiel concludes his temple vision (chaps. 40-46) with the description of this same miraculous, life-giving stream issuing from the temple. The river is also mentioned by Joel (Joel 3:18), some 250 years before Ezekiel, and by Zechariah after the Babylonian exile.

The Commencement of the River: Zechariah 14:8; Ezekiel 47:1-2

In Zechariah's prophecy, the river is said to originate in Jerusalem and to divide, one branch flowing into the Dead Sea, the other into the Mediterranean. In Ezekiel 47 only the river flowing eastward is described, as an angelic guide takes Ezekiel on a prophetic excursion along the river.

At the eastern front of the temple Ezekiel sees a spring emerging (Ezek. 47:1-2). The waters begin at the immediate dwelling place of Christ who is the source of all spiritual and physical life. The miraculous waters “trickled forth” at first, and yet, without any tributaries, increased in depth and volume.

The Course of the River: Ezekiel 47:3-5

The angel led Ezekiel along the riverbank, measuring the waters. After 1,750 feet (1,000 cubits) the waters were ankle-deep. In another 1,750 feet the waters had become knee-deep, then waist-deep at another 1,750 feet, until at another 1,750 feet the river was so deep that one could swim in it. In the distance from Jerusalem to the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives (about 1½ miles), the trickle became a spring, the spring a brook, the brook a stream, and the stream a raging river. To accent the dramatic size and depth of the river, Ezekiel refers to it in verse 9 as “rivers,” literally “a double river,” because of its raging current.

The Changes Through the River: Ezekiel 47:6-12

The river continued to flow eastward, cascading into the Arabah (Ezek. 47:8), the desolate Jordan Valley rift extending from the Sea of Galilee southward to the Dead Sea and then to the Gulf of Aqabah. The river issued into the Dead Sea, healing its salty waters and rejuvenating the desert. The most inhospitable, arid, barren, desolate land on the face of the earth will become a fruitful land, lush with vegetation.

Along the banks of the supernatural yet literal river will grow “very many trees on the one side and on the other” (Ezek. 47:7). These marvelous trees shall be “for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine” (v. 12). These trees will have an inexhaustible quantity of fruit all year long. The leaves of the tree will provide healing, apparently for those who were redeemed in the Tribulation and entered the Millennium in their physical bodies, and for their offspring.

The Dead Sea which will be healed is today a symbol of death and destruction. The stench of sulphur hanging in the air reminds one of the judgment of Genesis 19. Presently the Dead Sea can hardly sustain microorganisms, apart from some freshwater springs along its northwestern shores. As proof for the genuine healing, the sea will bring forth “a very great multitude of fish” (Ezek. 47:9). Fishermen will find the Dead Sea an ideal place for their trade, with an abundance of fish like those found in the Mediterranean Sea. Fishermen will spread their nets from En-Gedi (“fountain of a kid”), located on the middle of the western shore, to En-Eglaim (“spring of the two calves”), perhaps located along the northwestern shore near Qumran.

The swamps and marshes near the southern end of the Dead Sea “will not be healed; they shall be given to salt” (Ezek. 47:11). Though Ezekiel does not explain why the salt flats will remain, several explanations can be offered. Salt, essential for the preparation of food, will also be required for some of the memorial sacrifices offered in the temple (Ezek. 43:24; cf. Lev. 2:13). Further, the Dead Sea is an important source of minerals for Israel and possibly will be in the future. The Lord may also want to demonstrate to the rest of the world for 1,000 years how stagnant and lifeless the entire Dead Sea had been before the river of living water healed it.


If the river were not literal, why would other passages of Scripture mention the river as well?  Psalm 46:4 mentions a river which will make Jerusalem glad.  Joel 3:18's millennial prediction envisions a fountain coming out of the temple and watering the valley of Shittim in which the Dead Sea is located. In fact, the millennial changes, predicted by Zechariah and Ezekiel are simply a microcosm of the healing of the curse that will take place all over the world.


Alva McClain, whose work on the kingdom is classic, has written the following about the millennial river issuing from the temple:


In addition to these natural results which must follow properly controlled rainfall, there may also be streams continually flowing by miraculous causation, such as the marvelous stream pictured by Ezekiel (47:1-12).  Its issue from the temple, its immense size, the beneficial qualities of its fruit, its perennial flow "in summer and in winter" (Zech. 14:8)--all emphasize the supernatural nature of the stream.  There is nothing at all inherently impossible in such a phenomenon.  Why should anyone stumble at the idea of a beautiful stream springing up at the geographical center of our Lord's blessed Kingdom on earth, with healing in both its waters and the fruit which grows beside it?  Is there anything incredible here, if we remember that the coming King is the One who once turned water into wine and sent the sightless man to wash away his blindness in the waters of Siloam (John 9:11)?  What a visible symbol this will be to remind the nations of the unfailing blessings which will flow from the throne of the Son of David!  And from this shrine none will go away in heartbreaking disappointment because no help has been found [The Greatness of the Kingdom, p. 237].


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