There are very few places in Scripture where we get a sense or a picture of what heaven might be like. Our reading from Revelation today is one such place. While we don’t know what the architecture or furniture will be like; we do know heaven is a place where there is no more pain, suffering and that every tear is wiped away.
Our curiosity is peaked when we stumble across passages such as this as we instinctively wonder what heaven is like? Where is heaven? Who will we find when we get there? In many ways the answers to these questions are left to our imagination and passages such as this. Imagine a place, where there is no suffering, no pain, no more crying. Could that be heaven?
This is comforting to think about, especially coming from a book in the Bible that often gets a bad wrap. Revelation seems to get a bad reputation from it’s imagery of monsters, dragons, beasts and a huge cosmic battle between good and evil. A far cry from a place of no suffering, no violence, no pain. The Book of Revelation has us on guard, to be watchful so that we too do not fall prey to some ill fait.
I do believe that there is a different way to interpret this book. It is about context and what is going on at the time when this book was written. Roman rule is at an all time high. People are being persecuted for their culture and beliefs. Many are captured and thrown into prison. Many more are executed. John of Patmos, who many a scholar attributes the authorship of this book is one such person in prison for his beliefs and stance against Roman rule. It is while in prison that he forms the Book of Revelation into being.
For anyone in such circumstances, what do you do when you have a message to proclaim and where you are undoubtedly going to be persecuted for your work? Well as with many, satire becomes a viable option. Instead of talking about Roman rule and the consequences of Roman rule, it is easier, more covert, to talk about beasts and dragons and how ultimately the good guys will win. The good guys of course being John and company and other early followers of Jesus. This is a book that proclaims that through any adversity we may find ourselves, the God of life aka Tree of Life; will triumph fully and in fact is always with us through any struggle because God, our God, is the Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. Through all time, and that means all time, God is with us.
With this in mind the Book of Revelation becomes not a book to avoid, but rather one that offers hope. We live in a world and context where it can be difficult to take a stand for what we believe. It can be hard to be the alternative voice in an argument or issue. It is even harder sometimes to present alternative facts to the alternative facts and to be a voice of reason. It is far easier to conform, go along with the flow, not ruffle too many feathers. And sometimes there is time and place to get along and not cause too big a fuss.
Even in these times, the times when we conform to get along, and thee times when we know we need to do something different, the Book of Revelation teaches us that no matter how great the conflict may be, God is there in the midst of it all to liberate and free a people who struggle and suffer at the hands of others.
Hmm, so I wonder where heaven is and what it looks like? In many ways, it is not too different from life on earth. While we may never know exactly what heaven is or what the furniture is like, perhaps Revelation reminds us that we are always participating in the work of heaven. In that we are always through our actions, hastening the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and God’s reign over all things and all manner of thing. In this way, heaven is not a distant land somewhere beyond the clouds, but rather ‘heaven is a place on earth’ as the song goes.
Heaven, the Kingdom of God, are those places in our lives and world where we encounter God and God’s work in and through us. In this way God is always with us.