Summary: In John's description of heaven, he saw the river of life, and on either side of the river was the tree of life, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Healing in heaven? From what? Illness? Injuries? And nations in heaven?
LEAVES FOR HEALING
I. Afterlife – almost universally believed in
Belief in the afterlife is common to practically all peoples of the earth.
• Some American Indians called it the “happy hunting ground”
• Ancient Judaism accepted the idea of life beyond physical death, but with little grasp of what it would be
• There is clear evidence in the Torah of belief in life after death, indicating in several places that the righteous will be reunited with their loved ones, while the wicked will be excluded from the reunion.
• Modern Jews do not have much dogma about the afterlife, leaving a great deal of room for personal opinion. An Orthodox Jew may believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place similar to the way a Christian visualizes heaven, or that they are reincarnated through many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the Messiah, when they will be resurrected.
• Koran describes in many passages Islamic belief in an afterlife very different from what Christians envision.
With few exceptions, most of humanity from the beginning has accepted and placed their hopes on “a world to come” that is better than the present one, and that they, personally will reach it.
Christians see heaven as home, which is reached after our brief earthly sojourn.
It’s a big part of our singing.
“This world is not my home.”
“Beyond this land of parting, losing and leaving lies the summer land of bliss.”
If nothing lies beyond this realm, this life is a mournful tale of a people who rise in life only to fall in death.
But Christians are confident that one day a trumpet will sound, every grave will be opened, and there will be a is a resurrection of the dead, and for those who eagerly yearn for it, everlasting life in the very presence of God.
Yet we wonder - what is heaven like?
II. Popular conceptions of heaven
We hear people describe their notions of heaven in many ways:
• The song “50 miles of elbow room”
• No allergies, no annoying boss, flat tire on the car, no snow, no wind, no weeds, no grouchy co-workers or neighbors – in short, anything I don’t like in this life will be absent in the next.
Therefore, heaven is sometimes seen as a place where all bad things aren’t.
But in heaven, what is there, and what is there for us to do?
If I enjoy bowling, will heaven have bowling alleys?
If I like to ski, will heaven have the best ski slopes imaginable?
Golf? The finest courses?
Will all my favorites pastimes and entertainments be at my disposal?
All my favorite foods and desserts, not unhealthy or fattening - no spinach or eggplant, nothing vile can enter there, so no buttermilk.
Heaven is often thought of as a place of leisure enjoyments and self-indulgence - with self at the center - which is what strive against in this life.
But is heaven something entirely different from even our favorite pursuits in this life?
And if it is, will our interests be automatically adjusted to an appreciation of those available in the new life?
Since we all here today join most of humanity in earnestly desiring a “better country” as the Hebrew writer put it, we might be surprised that although the entire bible points to Christ, and Christ points the way to heaven--indeed provides the only way--there are fairly few lines of scripture devoted to describing heaven.
The ones that give us most of it comes at the end of the bible (last chapters of Revelation), which likely was written by the last writer of sacred writings. Those prophetic descriptions describe a time or place glorious beyond imagining, where nothing, absolutely nothing blemishes ultimate peace and happiness.
III. Heaven in the Old Testament
Almost every time heaven is mentioned in the OT, it refers to the sky.
But there are some passages that clearly reveal firm belief in the hereafter.
The Torah (Gen-Deut) speaks of several noteworthy people being "gathered to their people, not suggesting an earthly gathering, as a funeral, but a celestial gathering." See, for example, Gen. 25:8 (Abraham), 25:17 (Ishmael), 35:29 (Isaac), 49:33 (Jacob), Deut. 32:50 (Moses and Aaron) II Kings 22:20 (King Josiah).
Although the Israelites didn’t realize it, the “promised land” is a type of heaven.
But Abraham had some inkling of it:
Hebrews 11:9-10 By faith he [Abraham] went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
Ezek 47:1-12 contains a description of the future effect of the gospel, tinged with thoughts most closely associated with heaven. The vision Ezekiel saw is similar in several details to the one John saw when exiled to Patmos Island, which we will look at later.