February 7, 1995
We are planning a vacation next summer in Scotland that will include a family reunion. This one will be a true gathering of the clan. My maiden name is Leslie and the Leslie’s of Leslie Castle near Aberdeen have invited Leslies from all over the world to join them in three days of highland music, feasting, and various other activities.
I keep forming mental images of what it will be like to meet a host of relatives. I see a myriad of plaid kilts, hear a thousand Scottish burrs, and wonder at the awful beauty of dozens of bagpipes playing reels and marches. However, that is probably not a true picture of what awaits us so I have decided to abandon the limits of my imagination. Soon enough, we will see what Scotland and those many Leslies are really like.
Refusing mental pictures is a challenge because the unknown is hard to leave that way. We form the same mental pictures of many places, even of heaven. Where is it? What does it look like? Who will be there? Will we know everyone? Are we going to sit on clouds and play harps all day? Will there be angels in long white gowns with feathered wings? Are the streets really gold? Does St. Peter sit at a Pearly Gate checking in each arrival? What will we do for eternity? Will it be boring? What does God look like? Is He smiling?
The Bible says very little about heaven. Maybe visual images are too difficult because we cannot imagine perfection, yet Scripture does call heaven Paradise and in our hearts, we are drawn to something better, something beyond what we know, and better. Certainly heaven is the dwelling place of God and the desire and longing of many human hearts.
What does God say about it? While the descriptions seems symbolic, the book of Revelation does talk about a Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It says this city will shine with the glory of God and will be of pure gold, as pure as glass.. It will be brilliant like precious jewels, and clear as crystal. The walls will be high, with twelve gates and twelve foundations each made of precious stones. The great street of the city is pure gold, like transparent glass. There is no temple, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple, and this city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. Obviously, heaven is a place of worship and very beautiful.
Revelation 21:21 also says there are twelve gates and each gate is made of a single pearl. Walls and gates suggest shelter for those inside and entrances for those outside. Heaven is safe and protected, but also accessible. However, the gates are not wide open. The Bible says, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life....”
According to the Bible, any decision about who gets in is not made by St. Peter at the gate but by each person on earth before they die. The Lamb’s book of life is reserved for those who repent of their sin and place their faith in the Lamb, Jesus Christ, while they are still living. However, God says whosoever will may come.
Scripture also says in heaven there will be no more curse. Sin is forgiven and cleansed, judged at Calvary and never again to be judged. The throne of God and of the Lamb are in this wonderful place and here God’s servants will joyfully serve him forever.
The priority of God is obviously not that we know what heaven is like but that our names are in the book of life. The final verses in the Bible are His invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’” He wants us not anxious about what heaven looks like but concerned that those gates of pearl will someday swing open for us.