|Last night I kicked off our small group’s discussion of heaven by asking, “What was your favorite tree when you were a kid?” As this reveals, most of my icebreaker questions are off-the-wall and deal with childhood memories. Maybe your favorite tree was the one with the tree house. You know, it was a place where you and your friends could have your exclusive club with the “No girls/boys allowed!” sign on the front door.
Possibly it was an apple tree or cherry tree with the sweetest fruit you ever ate. For some it might have even been a neighbor’s fruit tree and the fruit was somewhat “forbidden” because you didn’t have permission to take any.
Perhaps it was a huge shade tree with a tire swing that you spent long summer afternoons under it playing, reading, and/or napping. It was so large the family cookouts could be eaten under its cool shade.
“What do trees have to do with heaven?” someone wants to know. John’s vision of the New Jerusalem included some special trees (Rev. 22:1-5). These are very unusual fruit-bearing trees. Rather than having only one crop per year, each has a different fruit per month. Just imagine a peach-pear-apple-date-banana-plum-orange-lemon-lime-grapefruit-fig-persimmon tree. (If you don’t like this month’s fruit, just hold on till next month!)
But wait, there’s more, these twelve-fruit fruit trees have special leaves. It is said, “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Harkening back to the Garden of Eden, these trees are life giving. They grew on both sides of “the river of the water of life.” They are the “tree of life.”
While your conception of heaven might not include trees, in biblical times trees were very important. Wood was a crucial commodity for construction of homes and furnishings in those homes. Their fruits were an integral part of the diets of the people. But there is another important function that we rarely think of today—olive trees were a fuel source for oil lamps. Fruit-bearing trees were so important that God forbade the Israelites from cutting them down to use in siege-warfare when they entered the Promised Land (Deut. 20:19-20).
In some ways, heaven may be strangely familiar. But there will be others where it is uniquely different than anything we’ve seen before. More important, though, heaven is being in God’s presence. Don’t you want to go?
John Kenneth King