Heaven Is Here

Streets of gold. Pearly gates. Thick, high walls. Precious stones all around. Fascinating depictions of what heaven will be like. And there’s more: extravagant feasting; vast mansions, filled with rooms and abundant light; eternal Sabbath rest. What strikes you about these images? None of them are negative, for sure. But ask yourself, are they enticing? Are your senses titillated at the thought of spending eternity there when you die?

Unless you’ve lived your entire life in solitary confinement, you’ve undoubtedly heard—if not made—sarcastic remarks about heaven as lounging around on clouds, playing harps, as the numerous paintings of those chubby little cherubim suggest. It’s really a satire revealing how we feel about the picture the Bible seems to paint of heaven. But imagine, for a moment, how these images must have struck those who first heard them.

Walls. What modern day city can you think of that has walls, except perhaps as historic monuments? When you think of the great cities of the world, I doubt the first thing that pops into your mind is walls. Yet that is exactly what first-century listeners would have envisioned. A city without large, strong walls was inconceivable. (Go ahead, say it… “Incontheivable!”) Now think of the most valuable of all precious stones. Diamonds, right? And perhaps rubies. But amidst all the precious stones canvassing the Great City of heaven, diamonds are omitted. They no doubt existed, but they were simply to hard to be cut or polished in that day, so they were practically worthless. Pearls, however, were one of the most precious adornments of that time.

Now think of some of the other heavenly images. Theologian William Crockett makes some profound observations, which I think merit a lengthy quote:
Heaven also is described as a place of rest (Heb. 3-4). Today, in the age of meaningful employment and leisure time activities, eternal rest might sound insignificant (what will we do up there?), but when people worked from dawn till dusk simply to feed themselves, the image of eternal sabbaths struck a responsive chord. Laborers in Jesus’ day never took rest for granted, nor did they assume daily bread was their rightful due. (We in the West have so much food the task is how to avoid it.) So to announce that the endless delights of heaven would begin with a sumptuous feast (Rev. 19:6-9) was a picture of inexpressible happiness. Similarly, what could be more meaningful to people living in dark, one-room houses than to describe heaven as a place filled with light and space (John 14:2; Rev. 21:10-27)? Heaven was the fulfillment of every dream. (William Crockett, Four Views of Hell, p. 56)
I am almost dumbfounded when I contrast those original hearers of and delighters in this message of eschatological anticipation with its hearers today, myself included. We have all these things, or at least many of us do. Compared to the vast, vast majority of those living in Jesus’ day (and, I might add, to the majority of those living in various parts of the world today!), we certainly do. Heaven is here, and we are living it.

Or are we?

Perhaps no biblical imagery would do justice to our longings in modern day “civilized” society. We have everything we wanted, but we still want more. It’s been said that wealth is not being rich, but richer—richer than everyone else, and richer than you are. What can God possibly entice us with today that we will not baulk at? This saddens me deeply.

Yet even Scripture depicts heaven in terms we can relate to. God says that in heaven he will dwell with us permanently and tangibly. There will be no more faith, no more hope. No more doubt, no more fear. “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:3-5a)

I exchanged comments recently on a friend’s blog with a woman who said that she didn’t see a need to turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith, because she already experienced a life of peace, love, and blessing without him. I would not doubt that some people without Jesus are satisfied with their lives. But taking the broad sweep of humanity, throughout history and today, it is obvious that the Bible’s depiction of heaven is wholly otherworldly to life on earth. On earth, peace, love, joy, and blessings are disparate—and grossly so. Some of us, such as myself, have more than we possibly need, while most of the world is struggling to survive. In the great, final, and everlasting City of God, there will be no more want, no more need, by anyone. All will have their fill of every delight and will satisfy their souls without limit, forever and ever, in God’s presence. For in his presence, and his presence alone, is ultimate and lasting delight.

“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4)

He is the desire of your heart (whether you know it or not).

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