ZECHARIAH 14 contains one of the thrilling OT prophecies of the time when the “RIVER OF LIFE” would flow from Jerusalem to the nations. The imagery is fantastic, and it is nothing less than the promise of eternal life.
“It shall be in that day that living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea and half of them toward the hinder sea; in summer and winter it shall be.”
To the ancient Jew living in the promised land water was the image of life and blessings. Zechariah 14 promised that when the Messiah came in judgment (verse 1, 5) “living waters” would flow from Jerusalem. It would flow to all peoples–from sea to sea. It would be an endless supply–in summer and winter.
Zechariah 14 and the Symbolism of Water
Water conjured up images of the Garden of Eden and Man’s once intimate relationship to God (Genesis 2:10).
Water also symbolized cleansing and purity. The sacrificial system of the Old Covenant had various “washings,” (Hebrews 9:9-14) that sanctified to the purifying of the flesh. While never effective for the cleansing of the conscience, the cleansing of these ceremonies nonetheless symbolized the purity that was necessary to approach God.
The prophecy of Zechariah 14 promise of living waters therefore carried with it a rich variety of concepts; (resurrection) life, cleansing, blessings, etc.. Zechariah 14, however, clearly not therefore, speaking of literal water.
Zechariah 14 and the Fountain of Life in Other Prophecies
The prophecy of Zechariah14 and its prediction that God would open a fountain for the cleansing of sin is consistent with other prophets.
Joel predicted that in the “last days” consummating in the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord, Jehovah would open a fountain for cleansing. That fountain would flow “from the house of the Lord” (3:18), for the acquittal of the sins of Israel (v. 21).
Isaiah contains several Messianic prophecies that mention the flowing of abundant waters in the Kingdom. In 12:3, Isaiah foretold the time when God’s people would draw waters from the well of salvation. In 31:25f the prophet said that in the kingdom, “on every high mountain and on every high hill there shall be rivers and streams of water”; this would also be “in the day of great slaughter.”
In Isaiah 35 the Lord promised that in the day of His coming: “waters shall burst forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (verse 6-7). This cannot be Jesus’ incarnate ministry; it refers to his coming “with a vengeance, and with the recompense of God” (verse 4). Salvation and judgment would be joined, “He will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:4).
Jesus said of his coming against Jerusalem: “these be the days of vengeance when all things that are written must be fulfilled” (Luke 21:22).
Ezekiel 47 contains a graphic description of the River of Life. The river flows from the Temple of God at Jerusalem eastward all the way to the Dead Sea. This river is unique because, “When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the river goes will live…everything will live wherever the river goes” (v. 8-9). The River brings the dead to life!
Zechariah 12-14 contains another reference to the fountain being opened. In chapter 12:10f Adonai foretold the time when all the tribes of the land would mourn and look on the one whom they had pierced. Jesus quotes this verse in Matthew 24:30 and says it would be fulfilled in his coming against Jerusalem.
In chapter 13:1 the prophet said “in that day”–the day of mourning–“a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness”
The day of mourning would be the time of Jesus’ coming against Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Matthew 24:30). The time of mourning would be when God would open a fountain for the cleansing of the sins of Israel. Therefore Jesus’ coming against Jerusalem, in AD 70, would be the time when the fountain for the cleansing of the sins of Israel would be opened.
Zechariah was focused on the consummation of the work of the “Branch” Zechariah (3:9; 6:13) who would be betrayed in the house of friends (13:6) when they would weigh out the thirty pieces of silver (11:12). One cannot divorce initiation (i.e. the cross) from consummation or “vice versa.” The work that Jesus began in his Passion would be perfected at his parousia (1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Hebrews 9:24-28).
With this caveat it is nonetheless true that the prophetic emphasis is on the judgment coming of the Lord when speaking of the Fountain for Sin. In Joel 2-3, Isaiah 31; 35, and Zechariah 12-14, the context is the same; the coming of the Lord in judgment against Israel. In our next installment on Zechariah 14 and the River of Life, we will see how Jesus applied the prophecy of Zechariah and the other prophecies about the “living waters.” Stay tuned!
Be sure to read my study of Zechariah 14 in my Who Is This Babylon? It is a rich study!