They will hunger no more, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. (7:16–17)
This comforting promise of further provision is drawn from and almost identical to the words of Isaiah 49:10. As they experienced the horrors of the Tribulation, these sufferers of the Great Tribulation had endured hunger, thirst, and scorching heat as the sun beat down on them, a phenomenon which will occur in the Tribulation (16:9). But all the tormenting physical and spiritual elements of earthly life they will experience no longer, but rather will enjoy eternal satisfaction, for the Lamb in the center of the throne (cf. 5:6) will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. The picture of God as the Shepherd of His people is one of the most beloved and common in the Old Testament (cf. Pss. 23; 80:1; Isa. 40:11; Ezek. 34:23), and Jesus is depicted as the Shepherd of His people in the New Testament (John 10:11ff.; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4). Interestingly, the other three uses of poimainō (shepherd) in Revelation (2:27; 12:5; 19:15; “rule” or “shepherd” in all three cases) reveal Christ in a destroying mode, crushing sinners with a rod of iron, as in Psalm 2:9. The Great Shepherd will guide His flock to springs of the water of life (cf. 21:6; 22:1, 17). He will also wipe every tear from their eyes (cf. 21:4; Isa. 25:8), for in heaven there will be no pain, sorrow, or suffering to cause them.
In this age when Christianity is under siege on all sides, seemingly losing its grip on divine truth and apparently headed for defeat, it is comforting to be reassured of the ultimate triumph of God’s saving grace. In the midst of an even worse situation in the future before Christ’s return, God will redeem His people. That thought should bring present-day believers great comfort, and motivate all to praise God for the greatness of His redemptive plan. And ultimately, in the eternal state, all these promises will come true for all believers.
17 We now have a beautiful pastoral figure—that of the Lamb shepherding his people (cf. Jn 10:1–8; Heb 13:20; 1 Pe 2:25). It is not through some perfect environment but through the presence and continual ministry of the Lamb that their sufferings are forever assuaged. Whereas on earth their enemies may have tormented them, now the Lamb guides them: “He will lead [hodēgēsei, GK 3842—the same verb used of the Holy Spirit in Jn 16:13] them to springs of living water.” In contrast to the burning thirst experienced in their tribulation, now they will enjoy the refreshing waters of life. Thus in the future life the saints will not know stagnation, boredom, or satiation (Ps 23:1–3; Jer 2:13; Eze 47:1–12; Zec 14:8).
Finally, even the sorrowful memory of the pain and suffering of the former days will be mercifully removed by the Father: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (cf. 21:4). Tribulation produces tears. Like a tenderhearted, devoted mother, God will wipe each tear from their eyes with the eternal consolation of glory itself. Never again will they cry out because of pain or suffering. Only through the resurrection can all this become real (Isa 25:8; 1 Co 15:54).
16–17 The eternal blessedness of the redeemed is pictured in phrases drawn for the most part from Isaiah’s description of the exiles returning from Babylon (Isa 49:10). The promise that they will neither hunger nor thirst would be especially meaningful in an ancient land where both were constant threats. Yet the promise goes beyond physical privation. It points to that ultimate satisfaction of the soul’s deepest longing for spiritual wholeness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” said Jesus, “for they will be filled” (Matt 5:6). And again, “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35; cf. 4:14; 7:37). In the age to come neither sun nor scorching east wind will strike the redeemed. They are sheltered from all discomfort by the presence of God.
The idea of the Lamb as the shepherd of God’s flock is an intriguing exchange of roles. Elsewhere in the writings of John, Christ is pictured as the good shepherd (John 10:1–30; 21:15–17; cf. 1 John 3:16 with John 10:11). The metaphor builds on the OT picture of God as the shepherd of Israel. Such passages as Ps 23:1 (“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want”) and Isa 40:11 (“He tends his flock like a shepherd”) speak of the gentle care and daily provision of the ancient shepherd. God through Ezekiel tells of a coming shepherd—“my servant David”—who is to tend his flock (Ezek 34:23). Christ is this promised good shepherd.
Elsewhere in Revelation, the shepherding activity of the Lamb is of a radically different sort. He is to rule (shepherd) the nations with an iron scepter (12:5; 19:15). In 2:27 the overcomers at Thyatira are promised a share in this rule. With an iron scepter they will shepherd the nations; they will “dash them to pieces like pottery.”
The Lamb as heavenly shepherd leads his flock to the wellspring of life and wipes away the last trace of earthly sorrow. “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed,” sang Moses and the children of Israel (Exod 15:13). “Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness,” prayed the Psalmist (Ps 5:8). As God has led in the past, so will he lead in the future. He directs the heavenly multitude to the fountain and source of life—that is, to the immediate presence of God. The inverted syntax of the expression in Greek lays emphasis on the word “life.” The Psalmist says that people will drink from the river of God’s delights, for with him is the fountain of life (Ps 36:8–9). The same concept lies behind Jesus’ promise that “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14; cf. 7:38; and the “inexhaustible fountain of righteousness” in 1 Enoch 48:1). As in the preceding verse, the figure points beyond itself to that ultimate satisfaction of people’s spiritual longings. As a fresh-water spring in a semiarid land would be to a shepherd and his thirsty flock, so will be the eternal presence of God to redeemed humanity in their longing for spiritual wholeness.
The tears that God wipes away are not the tears of grief over a wasted life. Rather, like the tears of a child brought suddenly from sorrow to delight, they linger rather ridiculously on the faces of the redeemed.
Some interpreters have suggested that John, by the use of this hymn, is indoctrinating prospective martyrs for their coming ordeal. While a glimpse into the bliss of heaven would certainly encourage Christians caught in a hostile world, to interpret the vision as premeditated indoctrination scarcely does credit to the integrity of the Seer.
* * *
Following the interlude of chapter 7 in which John sees the church on earth protected by the seal of God and the church in heaven triumphant and praising God, action resumes and John records the opening of the seventh seal by the Lamb. While one might expect some great and concluding scene, there follows rather a dramatic half hour of silence. Then an angel offers up incense to God along with the prayers of the saints and casts the burning embers down upon the earth. The seven trumpet-angels raise their instruments in preparation to sound another series of seven judgments.
Many suggestions have been offered to explain the relationship between the three major series of judgments (seals, trumpets, and bowls). One solution would be a strictly chronological arrangement, with each new series evolving from the seventh element of the previous series. While it is true that from a literary perspective the seven trumpets seem to be an expansion of the seventh seal and the seven bowls a development of the seventh trumpet, the idea of the three series presenting a precise sequence of future events runs into considerable trouble when attention is given to the details of the book. Even when it is granted that the Revelation contains certain proleptic visions for the purpose of encouragement, the remainder of the book does not leave the impression of an orderly and temporally sequential development.
Most of the other solutions involve some sort of recapitulation, an approach that goes back to at least Victorinus of Pettau in the third century. While there is obviously a rather close similarity between the first four items in both the trumpets and the seals there are also significant differences when all the elements are compared.56
The position maintained in the following discussion is that the visions of John neither follow in a strict chronological sequence nor do they systematically recapitulate one another. While there is a rather clearly discernible literary development, it is not intended to represent a corresponding chronological development. All three series cover the same period of travail with which human history is brought to its consummation. In that sense they cover the same period of time. Yet the individual plagues in each series are not intended to correspond with those in the other two. While the first four units in the trumpets and bowls affect earth, sea, land waters, and the heavens (8:7–12 and 16:2–8) in the same order, there are a number of differences. The major point is that the intensity of the plagues increases in each series. The seals affect “a fourth of the earth” (6:8), and the trumpets “a third of the earth” (8:7, 8, 11, 12), while the bowls complete the wrath of God (16:17). The relationship of the three series is best understood as a spiral of increasing severity. Each series deals with the tumultuous time just before the end, but as we move from seals to trumpets to bowls we are aware of the ever increasing tempo and severity of the plagues. The literary structure is not difficult to discern (the trumpets are an expansion of the seventh seal and the bowls an expansion of the seventh trumpet), but the interpretive relationship calls for an imagination freed from the prosaic mentality of the Western world and more open to the possibility of understanding that comes from insight rather than logic. All attempts to press the material into well-defined patterns leave the impression that John was more interested in producing a work of literary subtlety than sharing with his fellow believers the awe-inspiring visions that God had dramatically revealed to him.
One of the more helpful suggestions is to view John as a guide in an art gallery who has his students stand back to absorb a general impression (the sevenfold visions) and then move up to study the details (the unnumbered visions). Upon entering the Sistine Chapel one is staggered by its immensity and glory. Only after some time has passed is the viewer ready for a more detailed analysis of some of the specific items. An abstract painting resists all attempts to explain systematically why certain colors and lines appear as they do. The Apocalypse is the work of a creative artist and must not be pressed into a clearly defined plan.
17. “Because the Lamb at the center of the
throne will shepherd them,
and he will lead them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from
John’s mind is fixed on the Old Testament Scriptures, particularly a passage that speaks of the restoration of God’s people. “They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has Compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water” (Isa. 49:10; compare 4:5–6). God’s people knew the deprivation of food and water when they had to travel through the deserts that bordered their land.
This Old Testament passage refers to the return from Babylonian captivity to the land of Israel. God told his people that they would be neither hungry nor thirsty. He would supply them with the basic necessities of life to still their hunger and quench their thirst at oases. There he would shield them from the heat of the sun and the scorching wind of the desert.
Further, this passage, taken from a chapter that depicts the Servant of the Lord, that is, the Messiah, predicts the restoration of Israel (Isa. 49). The Messiah will sustain God’s people with spiritual and material blessings in this life and in the life to come. Here is a description of sustenance and solace for all the saints who put their trust in God. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:6).
- “Because the Lamb at the center of the throne will shepherd them.” The Lamb of God who was slain to redeem his people stands at the center, near the midpoint, of God’s throne. He is between God, seated on the throne, and the four living beings. No being is closer to God himself than the Lamb, who is now given the role of Shepherd. This role change, like so many in the Apocalypse, should be understood symbolically. Peter meditates on the concept of the sacrificial Lamb when he quotes Isaiah 53:9, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22). Then he notes that the Lamb’s wounds healed his readers. “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25).
During his earthly ministry, Jesus revealed himself as the Shepherd of his people He called himself the Good Shepherd and instructed Peter to shepherd his sheep (John 10:11, 14; 21:16). And in turn Peter calls Jesus the Chief Shepherd, while he and fellow elders serve him as shepherds of God’s flock (1 Pet. 5:1–4). These portrayals are taken from agricultural Israel. So David composed Psalm 23 and the prophet Ezekiel transmitted the word of God to his people, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd” (Ezek. 34:23). Jesus the Good Shepherd protects his sheep from danger and from harm, leads them to green pastures, and finds streams of refreshing water for them.
- “And he will lead them to springs of living water.” The Lamb who is now the Shepherd leads the sheep to springs of living water. The imagery is a clear reminder of the Samaritan woman who asked Jesus for living water so that she would no longer be thirsty and have to keep coming back to Jacob’s well (John 4:15). Water symbolizes eternal life (Isa. 55:1; John 7:38, 39). Near the end of the Apocalypse, Jesus refers to himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Then he offers to all those who are thirsty to drink freely from the spring of water of life (21:6; 22:17).
- “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” If there is one text in Scripture that comforts the saints, it is this verse. Here we meet the infinite tenderness of our God, who is able to remove from our eyes every tear caused by suffering, death, and sorrow. John again quotes from the Old Testament, where God is saying to his people that he will swallow up death forever and will wipe away the tears from all faces (Isa. 25:8; see Jer. 31:16). And in John’s vision of the new Jerusalem, God dwells with his people and as their God will wipe every tear from their eyes. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). This is eternal bliss that can be portrayed only in pictures borrowed from this earthly scene—God bending down as a parent to wipe tears from the faces of his children.
The last line in this verse is a picture of joy and happiness, of deliverance from sin and guilt, of salvation full and free. It is a scene of life in the fullest sense of the word—to be forever in the presence of our covenant God, who dwells in the midst of the glorified saints. It is Paradise restored.
Ver. 17.—For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them; shall be their Shepherd. Compare the description of the position of the Lamb given in ch. 5:6. The position mere indicated is the same as that there described. The Lamb is between the throne and those surrounding it, towards the middle of the throne. Christ is set forth in the character of Shepherd, as in John 10:11 and 21:16. And shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life (Revised Version). “Of life” is an addition to the passage as found in Isaiah (cf. John 7:37–39, where the expression is used of the Holy Spirit). And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. A reference to the tribulation of ver. 14.
17a ὅτι τὸ ἀρνίον τὸ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ θρόνου ποιμανεῖ αὐτούς, “because the Lamb in the midst of the throne will shepherd them.” The author has interrupted his allusion to Isa 49:10 to insert this statement regarding the role of the Lamb, which may be an allusion to Ezek 34:23. There is a close relationship between this passage and Rev 14:1–5, where the Lamb is described as standing on Mount Zion (v 1), but the throne is also mentioned (v 3), and the 144,000 are said to “follow the Lamb wherever he leads” (v 4), which appears to conflate both discipleship and shepherd/sheep imagery (see John 10:4). Rev 7:17 reflects the use of a common ancient pastoral metaphor in which the relationship between leader and those under him (usually a king and his people) is compared to a shepherd and his flock, and the term “shepherd” was a stock term for “king” (Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2:213–14). This imagery occurs frequently in the OT (2 Sam 7:7; Isa 44:28; Jer 3:15; 10:21; 25:34–36; Nah 3:18) and is very common in Greek literature (Iliad 2.243 and passim [where Agamemnon is called “shepherd of the people”]; Plato Republic 4.440d; Politicus 271e; Xenophon Cyropaedia 1.1.2; Dio Chrysostom Or. 1.13; 4.41; 4.44–45; Plutarch De Alex. Virt. 329A–B; in pseudo-Pythagorean literature [Stobaeus 4.5.61 = 36.4–5; 7.64 = 82.5–6]; see J. B. Skemp, Plato’s Statesman [London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952] 52–66]). The verb ποιμαίνειν is used four times in Revelation (2:27; 7:17; 12:5; 19:15); in 7:17 it means “to shepherd” (Louw-Nida, § 44.3) or “to guide or help” (Louw-Nida, § 36.2), while in 2:27; 12:5; 19:15 it means “to rule” (Louw-Nida, § 37.57). The metaphor of shepherd is applied to Paul in Acts of Paul 21, “But Thecla sought for Paul, as a lamb [ὡς ἀμνός] in the wilderness looks about for the shepherd.” It appears at first peculiar that it is a lamb who plays the role of a shepherd, yet it must be noted that the Lamb in Revelation is the Davidic Messiah (a figure described as a shepherd), as is Jesus, who is called a shepherd several times in the NT and early Christian literature (Matt 15:24; 25:32; Mark 14:27–28 = Matt 26:31–32 [an allusion to Zech 13:7, which is also found in Barn. 5:12]; Luke 19:10; John 10:2, 11, 12, 14; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4; 1 Clem. 16:1; Clement Paed. 3.101.3).
In early Christian art, Jesus is frequently depicted as the Good Shepherd, typically carrying a sheep on his shoulders; see Tertullian On Modesty 7.1–4; J. Quasten, “Der gute Hirte in hellenistische und frühchristliche Theologie,” Heilige Überlieferung (Münster: Aschendorff, 1938) 51–58; W. Schumacher, Hirt und Guter Hirt, RQSup 34 (Freiburg: Herder, 1977); B. Ramsay, “A Note on the Disappearance of the Good Shepherd from Early Christian Art,” HTR 76 (1983) 375–78; A. Pollastri and A. M. Giuntella, “Shepherd, the Good,” and “Iconography,” Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. A. Di Berardino (New York: Oxford UP, 1992) 2:776–78.
In the Abercius epitaph (ca. a.d. 200), lines 3–6, Jesus is called the “pure shepherd who feeds his flocks of sheep on mountains and plains” (text in J. B. Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, 2/1:496; see W. M. Calder, “The Epitaph of Avircius Marcellus,” JRS 29  1–4). This metaphor occupies a significant place in John 10:1–16 (esp. in vv 2, 11, 12, 14, 16), a fact that has been used to argue for a close relationship between John and Revelation (Böcher, NTS 27  312). Yet since the Fourth Gospel uses only the noun ποιμήν of Jesus, and Revelation uses only the verb ποιμαίνειν, the Johannine metaphor is in fact closer to the use of the metaphor in other NT passages such as Heb 13:20, where the exalted Jesus is called “the great shepherd of the sheep,” and 1 Pet 2:25, where he is called “the shepherd and overseer of your souls.” In the OT, God as the shepherd of Israel is an ancient metaphor (Gen 49:24 [Jahwist writer]; 48:15 [Elohist writer]), which continued to be used with some frequency (Pss 23:1, 3; 68:7–10; 80:1; Isa 40:11; 49:10; Jer 50:19). In the NT, God is referred to as a shepherd only in a single parable of Jesus found in Q (Luke 15:4–7 = Matt 18:12–14), and in the Apostolic Fathers only in Ignatius Rom. 9:1 (this metaphor, however, is based on the fact that Ignatius regards the bishop as the shepherd of the local flock of Christians; see Phld. 2:1; Ps.-Clement Hom. 3.72.1). The conception of Christians as the flock of God who are shepherded by church leaders occurs with some frequency in early Christian literature (Mark 14:27 = Matt 26:31; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2; 1 Clem. 16:1; 44:3; 54:2; 57:2; see Joachim Jeremias, TDNT 6:500–502). This metaphor is based on the common application of the shepherd/flock imagery applied to the king and his people. Mic 5:4 (interpreted messianically in Matt 2:6) prophesies the coming of a ruler who will shepherd the people of Israel (see Mic 5:4). The role of David redivivus is described in Ezek 34:23, nrsv (see 37:24), “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” This same metaphor is explicitly used of the Davidic Messiah in Pss. Sol. 17:40, where the flock is carefully described as the Lord’s (tr. Charlesworth, OTP 2:668): “Faithfully and righteously shepherding the Lord’s flock [ποιμαίνων τὸ ποίμνιον κυρίου] … . He will lead [ἄξει] them in all holiness.” It seems clear, then, that the imagery of Rev 7:17 is based on traditional conceptions associated with the Davidic Messiah.
17b καὶ ὁδηγήσει αὐτοὺς ἐπὶ ζωῆς πηγὰς ὑδάτων, “and guide them to the springs of life.” The author, who in v 16 began to allude to Isa 49:10, now continues the allusion (cf. LXX Isa 49:10d, καὶ διὰ πηγῶν ὑδάτων ἄξει αὐτούς, “he will lead them through springs of water”). The phrase ζωῆς πηγὰς ὑδάτων, literally “springs of the waters of life,” is very close to the Hebrew phrase מבוע מים חיים mabbûa˓ mayim ḥayyim, found in 1QH 8:16 (where it is a metaphor for the elect who will, like the Teacher of Righteousness, be a “fountain of living water”). The phrase מקור מי֨ חיי֨ māqôr mayim ḥayyim, “fountain of living water,” also occurs in 4Q416, 418, frag. 2, line 5 (Eisenman-Wise, Scrolls, 245, 250), though the context is not clear. The image of “living water” also occurs in Rev 21:6; 22:1, 17 and is perhaps the most striking common metaphor that Revelation shares with John (4:14; 6:35; 7:17–18; see Taeger, Johannesapokalypse, 29–66). The phrase ὕδωρ ζῶν, literally “living water,” means “flowing water,” i.e., a spring or river rather than water standing in a cistern LXX Gen 26:19; Lev 14:5; Jer 2:13; Zech 14:8; Did. 7:1–2; Klauser, “Taufet,” 157–64, esp. 157–59; see Ps.-Clement Diamart. 1, cited in Rordorf-Tulier, Doctrine, 170–71 n. 5). The Hebrew phrase מים חיים mayim ḥayyim, “waters of life,” occurs in 1QH 8:7, and in 1QH 8:16 the author says that “Thou, O my God, have put in my mouth … a spring of living waters [מבוע מים חיים mabbûa˓ mayim ḥayyim] which shall not run dry.” The phrase in Rev 21:6 is δώσω ἐκ τῆς πηγῆς τοῦ ὕδατος τῆς ζωῆς δωρεάν, “I will freely give from the well of living water,” while 22:1 has ποταμὸν ὕδατος ζωῆς, “river of living water,” and 22:17 has λαβέτω ὕδωρ ζωῆς δωρεάν, “let him receive as a gift the water of life.” A relatively close parallel is found in LXX Jer 2:13, πηγὴ ὕδατος ζωῆς, “spring of living water,” a metaphor for Yahweh (in the Tg. Neb. Jer 2:13, this is changed to a metaphor for goodness). In the early church, ὕδωρ ζῶν, “living water,” or ὕδωρ τῆς ζωῆς, “water of life,” is used as a metaphor for prophetic inspiration (Ignatius Rom. 7:2), baptism (Justin Dial. 14.1), Christ (Justin Dial. 69.6), the teaching of Christ (Clement of Alex. Strom. 7.16), and the Holy Spirit (Didymus Trin. 2.22; PGL, 1425). The phrase “spring [of the] water of life” also occurs in the Coptic-Gnostic treatise Ap. John 4.21–24.
17c καὶ ἐξαλείψει ὁ θεὸς πᾶν δάκρυον ἐκ τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτῶν, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This is a clear allusion to Isa 25:8, “Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,” probably based on the Hebrew text (cf. Jer 31:16[LXX 38:16]). The same allusion is also used in Rev 21:4, καὶ ἐξαλείψει πᾶν δάκρυον ἐκ τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτῶν, “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes,” differing only in the omission of ὁ θεός, “God.” See for a discussion of the eschatological elimination of sorrow and pain.
THE BLISS OF THE BLESSED
They will not hunger any more, nor will they thirst any more; the sun will not fall on them, nor any heat; because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
It would be impossible to number the people who have found comfort in this passage in the time of mourning and in the hour of death.
There is spiritual promise here, the promise of the ultimate satisfying of the hunger and the thirst of the human soul. This is a promise which occurs again and again in the New Testament, and especially in the words of Jesus. ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled’ (Matthew 5:6). Jesus said: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6:35). ‘Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’ (John 4:14). Jesus said: ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink’ (John 7:37–8). God has made us for himself, as St Augustine said, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him. As the traditional hymn has it:
O Christ, in thee my soul has found,
And found in thee alone,
The peace, the joy, I sought so long,
The bliss till now unknown.
Now none but Christ can satisfy,
None other name for me!
There’s love, and life, and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in thee.
But it may well be that we should not entirely spiritualize this passage. In the early days, many of the Church’s members were slaves. They knew what it was to be hungry all the time; they knew what thirst was; they knew what it was for the pitiless sun to blaze down upon their backs as they laboured, forbidden to rest. Truly, for them, heaven would be a place where hunger was satisfied and thirst was quenched and the heat of the sun no longer tortured them. The promise of this passage is that the end of the world’s hunger, the world’s pain and the world’s sorrow is in Christ.
We do well to remember that John found the origin of this passage in the words of Isaiah: ‘They shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them’ (Isaiah 49:10). This is a supreme example of an Old Testament dream finding its perfect fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
THE DIVINE SHEPHERD
Revelation 7:16–17 (contd)
Here is the promise of the loving care of the Divine Shepherd for his flock.
The picture of the shepherd is something in which both the Old and New Testaments delight.
‘The Lord is my shepherd’, begins the best-loved of all the psalms (Psalm 23:1). Another begins: ‘O Shepherd of Israel’ (Psalm 80:1). Isaiah pictures God feeding his flock like a shepherd, holding the lambs in his arms and carrying them in his bosom (Isaiah 40:11). The greatest title that the prophet can give to the messianic king is shepherd of his people (Ezekiel 34:23, 37:24).
This was the title that Jesus took for himself. ‘I am the good shepherd’ (John 10:11, 10:14). Peter calls Jesus the shepherd and guardian of our souls (1 Peter 2:25), and the writer to the Hebrews speaks of him as that great shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20).
This is a precious picture in any age; but it was more meaningful in Palestine than it can ever be to those who live in cities. Judaea was like a narrow plateau with dangerous country on either side. It was only a few miles across, with grim cliffs and ravines leading down to the Dead Sea on one side and on the other a drop to the wild country of the Shephelah. There were no fences or walls, and shepherds had to be constantly on the watch for straying sheep. George Adam Smith, an Old Testament scholar who travelled extensively in Palestine, describes the middle-eastern shepherd. ‘With us sheep are often left to themselves; I do not remember to have seen in the East a flock without a shepherd. In such a landscape as Judaea, where a day’s pasture is thinly scattered over an unfenced track, covered with delusive paths, still frequented by wild beasts, and rolling into the desert, the man and his character are indispensable. On some high moor, across which at night hyaenas howl, when you met him sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.’
Here we have the two great functions of the Divine Shepherd. He leads to fountains of living waters. As the psalmist had it: ‘He leads me beside still waters’ (Psalm 23:2). ‘With you is the fountain of life’ (Psalm 36:9). Without water, the flock would perish; and in Palestine the wells were few and far between. That the Divine Shepherd leads to wells of water is the symbol that he gives us the things without which life cannot survive.
He wipes the tear from every eye. As he nourishes our bodies, so he also comforts our hearts; without the presence and the comfort of God, the sorrows of life would be unbearable, and without the strength of God there are times in life when we could never go on.
The Divine Shepherd gives us nourishment for our bodies and comfort for our hearts. With Jesus Christ as shepherd, nothing can happen to us which we cannot bear.