Monday, February 1, 2016

Revelation 4:1-5

A recent flood of heaven tourism books have appeared and have found wildly popular success. Most of these books start with the same premise, a person faces a near death experience and comes back to tell of the grandeur and splendors of heaven. The books have come from a number of sources and while many of the wildly popular ones are the stories of young children innocently (or as Alex Malarkey honorably admits “deceptively”) recounting their encounters with Jesus and God in heaven, there are a few for the intelligentsia like the one written by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander titled, The Proof of Heaven. Here a professional and an intellectual denies all other’s attempts at describing the afterlife and uses vague ambiguities to prove that although everyone else has gotten it wrong, he actually has been to heaven and it is much like swimming through an amorphous lightning-filled black jello.
What should Christians do with these accounts? Are they real? According to one of the most popular of these story-tellers, Alex Malarkey, he was just making it up. As for the others, I would say that we need a serious measure of discernment. One thing that is continuously constant amongst the varied experiences is that they all seem to have one thing in common, the heaven that they speak of is consistently different from the heaven we read of in scripture. These pseudo-heavens don’t have bowing masses singing the worship and praise to God like we find in Isaiah or Revelation. Rather, heaven is merely a place of reunion and feeling happy.
Something in me wants to package John’s account in Revelation 4-5 and market it as “Man claims to have seen heaven and writes about it!” I wonder if it would be nearly as popular as its contemporary fictional counterparts. John’s account speaks of a reunion. It even speaks of great joy. But the heaven that John writes about is not about the people going there as much as it is about the One Who is already there. The reunion of the nations is for the express purpose of worshipping God. The joy that is experienced is directly related to being in the presence of the Redeemer of all Creation.
This is the first thing to notice with in John’s revelation of heaven. 
Heaven is about God. 
Starting the description of what he saw in heaven, John writes first about the most prominent feature of heaven, “behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.” Here is the key feature of heaven, it is filled with the glory of God. Are the saints of history past going to be there? Will there be angels? Yes, but they all are presented in one context – how they are relating to God. Just as no one in an art museum focuses on the linoleum floor or the velvet stanchions, no one who enters the throne room of God spends time speaking in terms of anything except in how it relates to God.
Continuing his description of heaven John introduces 24 elders who are seated around the throne of God. They are unnamed and under-described, because even though they are elders and enthroned they are merely adornments for the great One who is on the throne in their midst. Here seated before John was the One who has forever existed and who through the power of His word created all things. Here sits the one who rules and judges all. His throne is in heaven above all the thrones on earth and above all other thrones in heaven. The fear and respect due Him by his position and power are magnified as bolts of lightning crackle and the flames of His Spirit blaze in front of Him.
This is what heaven looks like – God, surrounded by things that worship God.

Reflect: In what one simple way do most accounts peddled amongst the heaven tourism books fall short of describing anything near the reality of heaven that we find in Scripture?