1. Heavenly Life
The promise of perfect, life-giving communion with God directs our present efforts to what’s truly life-giving.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. -Revelation 22:1-2
They’re so heavenly-minded, they’re no earthly good. This statement sums up the common perception that to occupy ourselves with life after death would cause us to be ineffective in this current life. To be “heavenly-minded,” it’s often thought by our world, removes incentive to be present and proactive on earth. The story of a man named Richard Baxter, however, suggests the contrary to be true.
Richard was an English pastor in the 1600’s, and he spent most of his life battling one sickness after the other. He once said that from the age of twenty-one, he was "seldom an hour free from pain." When he was thirty-five, a severe illness led Richard to believe he was going to die soon, and he began to meditate on heaven in preparation. To his surprise, Richard ended up recovering, but the experience left him changed! Richard took up the practice of meditating on heaven a half hour every day because of the powerful impact it had on his life. Purposefully dwelling in this mindset affected his priorities, values and responses in his day-to-day activities. Meditating on heaven had prepared Richard not only to face death but to engage with life!
As Richard’s story reveals, thinking about heaven, rather than disengaging us from life, enables Christians to live purposefully in the present.
The book of Revelation presents a vision of the end of time and the start of the eternal age to come, and the purpose of this book is not to invite people to escape or check out on life. Instead, Revelation was written to a group of suffering and persecuted Christians to inspire them to press on in this life and remain faithful to God! Its description of heaven is meant to motivate Believers to live fruitful lives in light of what’s to come.
At the end of time, Revelation describes heaven coming down to earth. God comes to dwell with his people, and all his creation is made new and restored to perfect wholeness. Revelation calls the new Jerusalem “the holy city,” and in chapter 22, we come across a description of this city. The author John describes a river flowing from the throne of God through the middle of the street of the city, and he calls this body of water “the river of the water of life.” John also communicates that “the tree of life” will be on either side of the river, bearing fruit and leaves as “healing for the nations.”
Throughout this description, one theme stands out: life. Think about what the word “life” conveys… It’s possible to be living but not really alive. To trudge through the motions of the day with no guiding purpose as to what it’s all for; to acquire success and material things and praise but feel hollow on the inside. To have life then, we could say, is to flourish in living. To live with purpose and satisfaction and joy. In essence, John is saying that the new creation will be characterized by full living - by flourishing.
The river of life is not a concept new to revelation. Water imagery is used throughout the Bible, and it often works to convey eternal life, which is nothing less than communion with God. Jesus expresses this clearly in John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is not merely existing for an infinite amount of time; it is to exist for eternity communing with God, experiencing perfect, unbroken fellowship with him. The river of life represents eternal fellowship with God that will satisfy all our thirsting and longing.
Not only is the river significant, but the tree of life is full of meaning as well. In the book of Genesis, we first encounter the tree of life. It was located in the Garden of Eden where God’s presence openly dwelled. Adam and Eve were commanded to eat of the tree and so ingest God’s very life. Just like the river, the tree in John’s vision likewise conveys eternal life. As symbolized by the tree’s 12 types of fruit and its healing leaves, this eternal life and fellowship with God will completely fulfill us.
To bring this all together, in the new creation, Believers will have perfect communion with God’s presence, and this fellowship will bring an unimaginable experience of life: of ever-growing satisfaction, contentment and flourishing.
So, what significance does this promise of eternal life hold for us today?
Those who believe in Jesus have already received the gift of eternal life! While our present experience of this life, of fellowship with God, is only a shadow of what we will have in the new creation, we do have access to God’s presence now through his Holy Spirit within us.
So, if we believe the message of Revelation and understand that fellowship with God is what brings life, then why would we look for life elsewhere in this present age? Why would we look to a job to satisfy us? To a spouse to make us whole? To a standard of physical beauty or success to complete us?
Revelation’s promise of life enlightens us to direct our present energies toward deepening our communion with God. It is communion with God alone that leads to flourishing. This perspective shapes our actions…It leads us to prioritize getting to know God more through his Word. It brings us to seek out God’s companionship in prayer throughout the day. It causes us to walk the path that brings greater intimacy with Christ: obeying his commands to live holy and loving lives. And it compels us to lead others into a relationship with God that they might have life!
No matter what the circumstances of life hold, we have hope that our relationship with God will only deepen in the eternal life to come, and we will walk forever in an experience of unimaginable life and flourishing. As we take hold of this promise, we descend deeper and deeper into God’s gift of life even now.
RESPOND: Take a moment to reflect - do your actions reflect the belief that communion with God is the only source of life? Ask God to shape your life around the promise that flourishing is found in fellowship with him.