When you think of heaven, what images come to mind? Maybe a long line of people waiting to get in? Or do you think of pearly gates connecting jewel-encrusted walls, a castle, golden streets, and angels? Maybe bright light filling the sky over green rolling hills? Sometimes we think of mansions. Maybe meetings with Jesus where we ask him all sorts of questions we wondered about. Maybe we hope that we get to be with loved ones who passed on.
I’ve read accounts of people who claim to die, go to heaven, and then come back to life on earth. They describe heaven somewhat like I described above. But it is impossible to know if what they say is true. The Bible itself is often vague about heaven. When it is precise in its description of heaven, those images come mostly in apocalyptic literature like the book of Revelation, and what we read in apocalyptic literature is almost certainly symbolic.
Some theologians and Bible scholars interpret the Scriptures as teaching heaven on earth. The New Jerusalem. The new heavens and the new earth. Maybe heaven is not pie in the sky in the great by and by. Maybe it is the Kingdom of God come to earth.
Jesus seemed to have a different view of heaven than the view we Christians often use. He said things like, “The kingdom is near, it is among you.” What did he mean?
Or perhaps you’ve heard this phrase: “That person is so heavenly-minded, they are of no earthly good.” What does that mean? Can a Christian be too focused on heaven?
I’m purposefully asking questions that don’t have easy answers because I want to get you thinking. We can long for heaven because life on earth is often exceedingly frustrating, confusing, difficult and painful. When we are having those kinds of thoughts and feelings, we can start to think about heaven. When life is painful, we think, “Get me out of here.” But what if God has other plans? What if heaven isn’t what we think it is? What if heaven isn’t what we want? There are so many questions, very few answers, when it comes to heaven.
As we continue our study of Ezekiel into chapter 34, the people of Israel have just watched as Babylon decimated their nation, their holy city of Jerusalem, and their precious iconic temple. Likely thousands of people died, and many more were deported in a second wave of exiles to Babylon. The people start to ask questions of God, and God has a new vision for them. It is a vision of a most incredible place of flourishing. Is it a vision of heaven? On the blog next week, we’ll find out.