That’s all we get from scripture of the heavenly realms of eternity.
Snapshots. Out-of-focus. Overexposed. Short on detail, usually.
An inspired yet nameless poet puts words to indescribable chaos, creation and glory while penning the opening chapters of Genesis, but aside from His Spirit hovering over the void, God later walks in the cool of the garden. It’s paradise that He’s created. But it’s not heaven. When a choice for self and now and evil is made, man and paradise must go separate ways.
The unknown writer of Job 1-2 describes a heaven where Satan still has to check in with God. Though people talk about “God showing up” in their church these days, it ain’t nothin’ like what Job experiences in those final chapters.
A few spare words of prophecy in Isaiah 30:27-33 and 31:8 spell doom for Assyria in what seems to be a fiery, cacophonous, cataclysmic battle. In heavenly realms, perhaps it is. But the reality on earth is much more quiet: In one night, one angel obliterates 185,000 Assyrian troops (Isaiah 37:36; 2 Kings 19:35).
In Daniel 10, the prophet learns why his prayers haven’t been answered for three weeks. There’s a battle going on that has detained the heavenly messenger to the prophet, and it’s not immediately clear where it’s taking place – but if a divine prince named Michael had not intervened, the delay might have been longer.
The whole account of battle in heaven and on earth, of judgment and the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem in the Revelation to John is filled with imagery that defies any artist to master.
But all we get are glimpses. – And a deep conviction of one fact that no one can deny:
Things are very different there.
There’s a conflict in the divine realm that has a very definite ending, an ending predetermined since the beginning of eternity (if there is such a thing): Evil is destroyed. Good is forever enshrined. God is eternally enthroned.
And people who choose to be good; to be like God – those who do right and wash their robes (Revelation 22:10-15) – have a dwelling with Him there, and continue to serve there as His servants (22:3-5), reigning with Him forever and ever.
All they need do is hear, and thirst, and wish, and take the free water of life (22:17).
Paradise is restored.
But some may object that hearing, thirsting, wishing and taking the water of life is no real plan of salvation in this world. It isn’t the right set of steps we must take. Not literally. Maybe metaphorically, in those heavenly realms.
I have to wonder if we’re missing a great truth by ignoring the metaphor, though, if that’s all it is. I have to wonder if we’re missing even more by thinking of it only as a metaphor and not a heavenly reality. I have to think that the original listeners to the gospel of great hope shared in the Revelation were thinking of the prophecies they grew up hearing and the stories they heard later; stories of Jesus hinting that He fulfilled those prophecies.
And of a choice that must be made, between the prince of the world that cannot last, and the Prince of the Realm that cannot end. Did you notice? Jesus stands astride them both, bridging the gap between, man-who-is-God and God-who-is-man. Yet only one realm has a future.
Glimpses. Foreshadowings. Hints and peeks and promises … that things are very different there.
More real than the tangible reality we know here. More permanent than the temporal instant we experience now. More vast than space. More lasting than time.
Glimpses are all we can get. Choices are all we can make.
From start to finish, the people God created must choose: Tree of shortcut, or tree of life. Now, or forever. Thirst, or water. Darkness, or light. Self, or Him. Good, or evil.
What we do reflects what we have chosen by faith in His grace. So we are judged by the Lord (Revelation 22:12, 14), the only One capable of judging us by virtue of His all-encompassing, eternal nature (13).
However, time is short:
Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” ~ Revelation 22:10-11
And the choice is upon us all.