When you think about the final chapters of Revelation, what comes to mind? Judgment? Destruction? Hell, fire, and brimstone? While these are there, John’s theological portrait in Revelation 21–22 actually accentuates God’s desire to satisfy his people, thus urging all who hear his word to come to God and be filled.
Thirst for God is an acquired taste. Perhaps that is why John emphasizes this characteristic of the believer in the last two chapters of the Bible. We acquire a taste for God’s satisfying presence as we encounter him. Do you see the logic? God satisfies our thirst so that we thirst for him. It’s a cycle of satisfaction that in eternity will find no interruption.
God’s Desire to Satisfy
Revelation does not become less theological as John writes. The initial scenes of the book’s drama in Revelation 1–5 portray God’s centrality in history and the cosmos. In the final two chapters, John describes God’s eternal dwelling among his people in the new creation. The vision John enjoys in Rev 21:5–8 recalls Revelation 4. The one seated on the throne in Revelation 4 still is in Revelation 21. Though the universe has changed, God has not.
Central to the message John receives in Rev 21:3–4 is the statement that God will now dwell with his people. Death and tears will no longer have a place in the human experience. All this is personal for God. In Rev 21:5, John writes that what he hears is the voice of God speaking from his throne and announcing, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life” (Rev 21:6b, CSB).
The concept of thirst in Rev 21:6 is a physical metaphor that expresses a desperate spiritual need. In light of the throne room imagery of Rev 21:1–5, John’s readers would likely recall scenes from the throne room visions recorded in Revelation 4–5 and the content of the fifth seal in Rev 6:9–11. At the breaking of the fifth seal, the martyred saints cry out for justice. Their cries speak in heaven what their contemporaries in John’s audience on earth cry in their hearts as they long for God to vindicate them. Thirst in Rev 21:6 portrays God’s people longing for him to vindicate himself and his people. The one who thirsts in Rev 21:6 enjoys fellowship with the martyred saints described in Rev 6:9–11, those who received a white robe as a temporary token of what would come. In Rev 21:6, the thirsts of God’s people longing to be vindicated are finally satiated because God will now dwell with his people in the new creation. G.K. Beale writes, “This fellowship is reserved for those who have maintained their faith in the Lamb’s atoning death and their testimony to his redemptive work.”
Satisfaction for All
In the drama of Revelation 22, John receives first a vision of the river flowing from the throne of God (vv. 1–5), then a message from an angel instructing John to seal the prophecy (v. 6–11), and finally a message from Jesus himself (vv. 12–16). Jesus promises his presence and eternal satisfaction to his followers. John writes responses to this narrative progression in Rev 22:17, “Both the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ Let anyone who hears, say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who desires take the water of life freely.”
My concern is with the breadth of the offer to find satisfaction in God. John portrays his readers as the special recipients of this final revelatory sequence in Rev 22:1–16—and perhaps the whole of the Revelation. Anyone who hears—and therefore understands the satisfaction God provides his people in his word—is to exhort all who would hear to come and be satisfied as well. In the last clause of Rev 22:17, John combines the activities of thirst and desire. These two verbs have a high degree of semantic overlap when thirst is used as a metaphor. John ensures that his readers catch his symbolic use of thirst by describing the water of life as the object of desire. The one who thirsts is to come as one who desires to satisfy his thirst in a specific way: by drinking from the water of life. John’s vision in Rev 22:1–5 begins with reference to the river flowing with the water of life, and transitions to the end of the chapter in Rev 22:17 by bidding those thirsty and desiring drink to come to Jesus. The role of thirsting and desiring satisfaction in God is one John would have his readers embrace.
Sip and Swig
God is satisfying no matter your current level of spiritual commitment. Drink a bit—and you will find that you want more. God’s instruction for your relationships, use of time, personal identity and expression, stewardship of money, paradigm of work and leisure will begin to prove faithful and good. Trust God’s word in one of these areas and you will want more.
But know this, God intends to satisfy you beyond the here-and-now. God alone can satisfy your need for forgiveness of sin and eternal fellowship with him and his people in the new creation. So even as you find deeper and deeper satisfaction in God now, recognize that the best is yet to come.
¹ This is the sixth entry in a series of FTC blog posts noting how John uses a particular grammatical form, the articular substantival participle, for specific words in Revelation that resemble a playwright’s roles in a script.
² διψάω in Rev 21:6; 22:17; θέλω in Rev 22:17.
³ “Scripture often employs the figure of thirst to depict the desire of the soul for God. ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God,’ sang the Psalmist (Ps 42:1; cf. 36:9; 63:1; Isa 55:1). God is a spring of living water (Jer 2:13; cf. Ps 36:9) that assuages thirst and wells up into eternal life (John 4:14)” (Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, rev ed., NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 385).
⁴ The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 1056.