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<< Discover the Book, with Dr. John Barnett

Discover the Book - July 12, 2013

  • 2013 Jul 12
  • COMMENTS
 

Heaven Is a Permanent Place

"He waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God."

-Hebrews 11:10, emphasis added

Poets have always depended on artistic imagery when portraying heaven. Such images combine hardness of texture and brilliance of light to suggest a realm of superior permanence, value and splendor, when compared with the cyclic, vegetative world in which we live. Jewel imagery is the most prevalent type of artistic imagery.

Ezekiel's vision of a heavenly level of reality is replete with such imagery: flashing fire and lightning, burnished bronze that sparkles, gleaming chrysolite, and sapphire (see Ezekiel 1). To this we can add the memorable pictures in Revelation of a sea of glass, like crystal; the appearance of God in splendor like that of jasper and carnelian; golden crowns, gates of pearl, and a city of pure gold. In addition to jeweled imagery, physical light and its equivalent-glory-are recurrent in biblical images of heaven. In the heaven portrayed in Revelation, the light of the sun and moon are no longer needed "for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb," and by the light of heaven "shall the nations walk" (Revelation 21:23-24). There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign with Him forever and ever (Revelation 22:5).                       

Heaven is a holy place. The purity of existence in heaven and the spiritual perfection of those who are "enrolled in heaven" (Hebrews 12:23) are expressed by imagery of washed robes (Revelation 7:14), white garments (Revelation 3:5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13), clothing of "fine linen, bright and pure" (Revelation 19:8), and chaste people who are "spotless" (Revelation 14:4-5).

Daniel pictures the people as shining "like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:3)-symbolic of permanence and glory. Revelation also pictures the redeemed receiving such things as the morning star (Revelation 2:28), a white stone with a secret name written on it (Revelation 2:17), and water from a fountain of life (Revelation 21:6). Similarly, those who enter heaven will become pillars in the temple of God (Revelation 3:12).

Heaven is an unimaginable place. While not a major part of the images of heaven, beings that have never existed in human experience are included in the visions of Ezekiel and Revelation. Examples from Ezekiel's vision include living creatures with four faces, four wings, and soles like those of a calf's foot (Ezekiel 1:6-7). These creatures move about in a riot of motion, and something that looks like torches of fire moves among them (Ezekiel 1:13). There is a celestial chariot replete with gleaming wheels which have rims full of eyes (Ezekiel 1:15-18). "The spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels" (Ezekiel 1:21)-which mystifies us still further. Revelation's pictures of creatures with six wings "full of eyes in front and behind" (Revelation 4:6-8) likewise contain the motif of strangeness.

The effect of all this is to reinforce the difference between heaven and earth and to underscore the sense of mystery surrounding heaven. The far reaches of incomprehensibility enter when we read: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Heaven is a worship-focused place. Compared to the relatively plentiful descriptions of heaven as a place, the Bible gives little information about the activity that transpires there. Activity in heaven consists almost entirely of worship (see Revelation 4; 5; 7:9-12). Revelation 14:4 adds the picture of the redeemed following the Lamb wherever He goes. We also read that God will "dwell" with his people and "be with them" (Revelation 21:3). In addition, there is also the transformation of our earthly experience into a different mode.

Half of the equation is the negation or canceling out of fallen earthly experience. There will be no more hunger or thirst, no more scorching heat (Revelation 7:16). God will wipe tears away and death shall be no more (Revelation 7:17; 21:4); mourning and pain will vanish, "for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4). As part of this exclusion of evil, heaven is a protected place: nothing unclean shall enter it or anything "that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie" (Revelation 21:27). The sheer freedom from fallen experience is pictured by city gates that "shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there)" (Revelation 21:25).

The other half of the equation is the creation of earthly categories into something "new." The main example is the new heaven and new earth that fills the last two chapters of the Bible, as well as the image of New Jerusalem, with its suggestion of earthly reality raised to a higher level of perfection. The writer of Hebrews claims that people of faith "desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (Hebrews 11:16, NASB).

Heaven is a joyously satisfying place. The two dominant human responses to new life in heaven are joy and satisfaction. The joy of heaven's inhabitants is pictured by the scenes of praise in Revelation, the white-robed conquerors waving palm branches (Revelation 7:9), and the guests at the wedding supper (Revelation 19:1-9). This is buttressed by the imagery of some of Jesus' parables, where attaining heaven is compared to attending a banquet (Luke 14:15-24) or entering into the joy of one's master (Matthew 25:21, 23).

From the perspective of life in this world, heaven is the object of human longing and the goal of human existence. Hebrews 11:13-14 employs the imagery of quest to express this reality: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, . . . for . . . they seek a homeland."

In addition to being the goal of a quest, heaven is the reward for earthly toil, as in Paul's picture of himself as having "finished the race" and looking forward to "the crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:7-8). We see this, too, in Peter's vision of "the Chief Shepherd" conferring "the crown of glory" on those who have served faithfully (1 Peter 5:4).

There is also the glorious picture of believers having come to "Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God . . . to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly" (Hebrews 12:22, NIV). Images of satisfaction emerge from the pictures in Revelation of saints being guided by a divine Shepherd to springs of living water (Revelation 7:17) and having access to "the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month" (Revelation 22:2, RSV).

Heaven is a rest after labor. Those who die in the Lord "rest from their labors, and their works follow them" (Revelation 14:13). Similarly, "there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God," which believers "strive to enter" (Hebrews 4:9-11, RSV).

Author and pastor John Piper once said,

The radical pursuit of joy in God may cost you your life. . . . But it will be worth it. The world has an inconsolable longing, which it tries to satisfy with anything but God. Scenic vacations. Sexual exploits. Ascetic rigors. Managerial excellence. Sports extravaganzas. We have turned our back on the breathtaking beauty of God and fallen in love with our shadow. To delight in the Light is a dangerous duty indeed. It may cost you your friends. It may cost you your reputation. It may cost you your life. But it will be worth it. Because the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life (Psalm 63:3)![4]

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