Of all the Bible verses, some of the most beautiful lines are contained in the penultimate chapter of the book of Revelations. Here we read about something beyond our comprehension or imagination. Yet, John the Apostle tries to narrate it for our benefit. Elsewhere, St Paul also tries to instruct us about it. According to his own words, he was once caught up to the third heaven. While recounting the indelible imprints of what he saw there, he is gasping to get the correct words to express its glory. He concludes by writing that ‘he heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat (2 Cori.12:4). Why did Paul hesitate to explain what he saw there? Because it was literally beyond words!
Man takes pride in his language skills and vocabulary. Paul was a man with good oratory skills and his letters are proof of his command over language. Yet he is not able to describe what he saw there. He simply says: ‘But as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cori.2:9). If it is beyond our senses and capabilities, how can we get an idea about it? Paul himself gives the answer; ‘These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God’ (1 Cori. 2:10).
With a prayer to the Holy Spirit to give us the wisdom to understand what awaits the righteous after death, let us proceed in our heaven-bound journey. When we set off on a journey, we should be certain about the destination and what it offers to us. In the instant case we are not going there for a sojourn but as permanent residents. To get the citizenship of that kingdom we have to renounce the citizenship of this world. Heaven does not permit dual citizenship. It is either heaven or no heaven. That is why Jesus said that one cannot serve God and wealth alike.
What does the sacred scripture say about heaven? John the Apostle was blessed to have a partial vision of heaven which he wrote down for us. ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband’ (Rev.21:1-2). How will the new Jerusalem look like? ‘It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal’ (Rev. 21:11). What is the difference between the old Jerusalem and the new Jerusalem? Old Jerusalem has been synonymous with its Temple for centuries. But in the new Jerusalem, there is no temple at all. Why does this new city not have a temple of its own? Because there is no need for it. Its temple is Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. It does not need even the sun or moon to shine on it. Because the glory of the God is its light. Heaven is the safest of havens. Its gates will never be shut by day (Rev.21:25). And forget about night, because there is no such thing there. Nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:27).
What John narrated is just a shade of heaven. What Paul narrated was just an image of heaven. God permitted them to have these visions in a way that could be seen and comprehended by mortals. Real heaven is really beyond words. Any discussion – this included – will suffer from the same limitations of human intelligence and imagination. We are bound by time and space. But heaven is beyond time and space. This is the real problem disturbing many today who don’t believe in the existence of heaven. They fail to find the truth about heaven because they are trying to contain what is abstract, in concrete.
If there is no gate, naturally anybody can come. Yes, the scripture says that anybody can enter the heaven if he qualifies in the entrance test, which is faith in Jesus Christ as God and Word Incarnate. In fact the Bible hints that people from all sides will come and sit for the great banquet at heaven. ‘I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Issac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt. 8:11). That is fine. Let everybody come. Heaven is spacious enough to accomodate billions more. We are not the kind of people who shut the door before others. But the very next verse of Mathew’s gospel which is a continuation of the earlier one is a warning to us, the chosen people. It reads: ‘..while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’. The other day we were discussing about a place where weeping and gnashing of teeth is commonplace. But today our discussion is about a place which is just the opposite of it; where, our Lord had forewarned us that, people from east and west will enter. As true heirs to this kingdom it is our birthright to enter it. and there are no gates at all to prevent us from coming inside. But..
But the big question is; Are we somewhere near it when the bells are going to toll? Every preaching, every prayer, every sacrament invites us to this ultimate bliss. When we proclaim the gospel, our only intention should be to invite others to Christ and through him to the kingdom of the Eternal Father. While preaching at Hippo, St Augustine was describing about the ‘City of God’ in detail. He went on to narrate the eternal crown that God has reserved for the chosen faithful. His speech moved the audience so much so that all those assembled in the Church went into tears. Even when Augustine requested them to keep silence in view of the holiness of the place, they could not control their emotions. He wanted to somehow continue with the speech but couldn’t, due to the emotional atmosphere in the audience. It is written that his own tears mixed with the weepings and cries of the audience. It made his words frozen and he couldn’t complete the speech. Such is the effect of a preaching when we are talking about heaven, the ultimate reward for mankind.
If the preachings of our times do not produce that result, if they do not move the hearts of the audience and if they are unable to bring a drop of tear from their eyes, it means we are not telling the gospel of heaven. We might be telling about prosperity, miraculous healings or material benefits. We might be proclaiming about love and mercy. But if we fail to stress on the most important theme of gospel, it is no preaching at all. Because gospel is all about entering heaven. Jesus started his preaching with this message; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” ( Mt. 4:17). The essence of his gospel is ‘to heaven through repentance’. We read that just before commending his spirit into the hands of the Father, Jesus promised the criminal who opened his contrite heart before him of immediate entry into Paradise.
My dear brothers and sisters, heaven is real. Death is not a full stop, but a comma. Beyond the comma, quite runs the river of life. Ezekiel had a vision of a river on the banks of which, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruits fail, but they will bear fruit every month because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing’ (Eze.47:12). John too was showed the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him (Rev.22:1-3).
Human history started at the Garden of Eden, where the Lord God used to ‘walk at the time of the evening breeze’. Adam and Eve used to walk with Him until that fateful day when an evil entity separated them from God. It was with a heavy heart that the Lord God drove them out of the garden, because He knew that had they continued there, it would have brought them eternal punishment. “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil: and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” – therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life’ (Gen. 3:22-24). Access to the tree of life is not permitted to those who have separated themselves from God. Eating from the tree of life in a state of sin would have brought man eternal damnation.
Ideally man should return to his Creator and to the place which God originally gave them, the Garden of Eden. Jesus Christ came to this world to save us from our sins and to reunite us with God the Father. Those who are so redeemed by the blameless blood of Jesus Christ are entitled to enter Heavenly Jerusalem at the consummation of time, to which we are looking forward prayerfully. Our ultimate aim is to regain our right to the tree of life, for which we need to wash our robes. ‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolators, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood’ (Rev.22:14-15). The big question is how to wash our robes. John the Apostle has witnessed a multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands, worshipping God. One of the elders explained to John: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”
Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, said; “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” ( John 8:13). Let us pray to Jesus Christ to wash us with his PRECIOUS BLOOD so that we also become sharers in eternal life with him in heaven. Let us also seek the intercession of Mary, the Gate of Heaven to envelope us with her mantle till we reach the promised land.