The precise phrase “river of life” does not appear in the Bible. However, Revelation 22:1-2 does refer to “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” The Apostle John, in his vision of the New Jerusalem, describes the river as flowing “down the middle of the great street of the city.”
The “water of life” referred to here cannot be physical water as we know it because Revelation 21:1 tells us there is “no longer any sea.” He goes on to say that there is no need for sun or moon because the glory of God and the Lamb give it light (Revelation 21:23). This would indicate that the hydrological cycle as we know it on earth does not exist in the New Jerusalem. Therefore, the water flowing from the throne is literally the water of eternal life, crystal clear to reflect the glory of God in a dazzling, never-ending stream. The fact that the stream emanates from the throne tells us that eternal life flows from God to His people.
Water is a common symbolic representation of eternal life in Scripture. Isaiah refers to drawing water from the “wells of salvation” with joy (Isaiah 12:3). The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah rebuked the Israelites for abandoning God “the spring of living water” and digging for themselves their own cisterns which could not hold water (Jeremiah 2:13). The Israelites had forsaken the living God, who alone provides eternal life, to chase after false idols, worldliness, and works-based religions. Men do the same today, refusing the water of life only Christ provides for a parched and dusty life of materialism and self-indulgence.
Jesus encouraged the Samaritan woman at the well to take from Him the water of (eternal) life so that she would never thirst again spiritually (John 4:13-14). Those who believe in Him, He goes on to say in John 7:38, will have streams of living water flowing from them. Water is an appropriate and easily understood symbol for life. Just as physical water is necessary to sustain physical life on earth, living water from the Savior is necessary to sustain eternal life with Him. Jesus is both the Bread of Life (John 6:35) and the source of living water, sustaining His people forever.