Recharge is a Bible study just for you, to nurture your own relationship with God. So, before you even look at the rest of the magazine, take some time out to focus on him. Grab a coffee, sit, breathe and read.
GRANDE LATTE – Revelation 21
FLAT WHITE – Revelation 21:1-4
ONE-SHOT ESPRESSO – Revelation 21:3
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”
BABYCHINO - (a family activity to reflect on God’s word together)
Take a trip to visit a church or graveyard where you can read the headstones. If there is a church nearby who hold an All Saints’ Day service, how about going along? Alternatively, you could so some research into your family tree together. If there is space, open up a conversation about what happens after we die.
Belinda Carlisle may not have the most developed eschatology, but heaven as a place on earth isn’t far off the description in Revelation. Talking about heaven is hard to get our heads around intellectually, as the biblical descriptions are rare and vague.
Also, talking about heaven is not just a head thing but a heart thing, as it touches on difficult topics like death and loss.
Most of the children we are raising or supporting will have had little to no close experience of death. It is the privilege of living in a reasonably risk-free environment like the UK. Death is kept at a safe distance, as even our food comes pre-packaged and plucked.
The loss of a pet might be their first brush with its reality, or perhaps the passing of an elderly relative or family friend. Yet recent world events, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have made our immortality more resonant. The Open University studied children’s drawings reflecting on the lockdown and saw a pattern of death anxiety, in which the children expressed a fear of losing friends and relatives.
Talking about death is hard at any age, but for those who are raising the next generation, having some idea of how we might answer questions about death is important to help children process what they have been through, even if they haven’t directly lost someone.
• How has lockdown affected you, your family or the children and young people you are supporting?
• How might you approach their questions or fears about death?
The Bible tells me so…little
The Bible has remarkably little to say about where we go after we die. Jesus does promise a place in paradise for his neighbour on the cross (Luke 23:43), but directions and descriptions are not part of his final words. In a similarly vague fashion, he spoke to his disciples at their final meal together about preparing mansions or rooms in his Father’s house for them (John 14:1-4).
Even this offers little detail beyond a vague floorplan. Intriguingly, the word for ‘room’ or ‘mansion’ used here is more of a reference to a wayside inn than a final destination, according to the original Greek. These fit more the image of a waiting room for the deceased until Jesus’ return, rather than a final resting place. Heaven appears to be a little more than fluffy clouds and harps for all eternity. And if I’m honest that is something of a relief.
Revelation has the most to say about heaven. John’s description of his visions on the island of Patmos are vivid, rich with symbolism and, if we’re honest, pretty odd. His description of the new heaven has little to say about fluffy clouds and instead offers an insight into a place I’d much rather spend eternity in.
Heaven will be a place on earth
The issue with a lot of our popular descriptions of heaven is that they seem less real, less concrete than the world we live in today. But Revelation 21 is not vague in its descriptions. We even have a location – Jerusalem. I visited Jerusalem a few years ago.
It was dusty and noisy, throbbing with market stalls selling anything from knock-off handbags to ornate homewares. It was a patchwork of winding streets and alleys, and I loved it.
But there was a charge to the air. We were there during the Jewish festival of Purim and there was a tension that felt palpable. It was only when we left to the seaside city of Jaffa that I felt like I could breathe easier. Jerusalem was many things, including being a real and vibrant place. This Jerusalem, however, will pass away along with London and Jaipur and the Cotswolds and Liskeard and the pub down the road from you. All these places that are so real will just pass away, replaced by a new heaven and a new earth.
This new heaven and new earth are not less but more real than all we have known. This new city is not built from concrete but what John describes as fine jewels, jasper and crystal. This city has walls, gates, streets paved with gold.
This promise of something palpable, even more so than what we know now, is important because it is good news for us and for our children. It offers hope of something even better than we have today. Heaven is not the end of the world. It’s just the beginning.
• Reflect on what this new heaven and new earth might mean. How does it make you feel?
The most important thing
Of course, all this is important. Knowing that heaven is a place promised by God that will wipe away all tears and give us a home here for ever is decidedly good news. But the most important thing is not the decor or the geography. It’s the company.
Heaven promises to be the place where God calls home (verse 3). The lack of tears is good news, but Revelation describes God being the one who wipes them away (verse 4).
We can tie ourselves in knots trying to work out what heaven is, where it is and who is on the guest list. But the heart of the gospel is that heaven is the promise of spending eternity in the company of the one who made us, the one who died for us, the one who resurrects us and the one who loves us perfectly. Heaven is good news not because its escapism from earth but a great big hug from God.
• Do you think of heaven according to where you are or who you are with? And is that with God?
Offering children a strong theology of heaven is not about wishing away this world or providing comfort in dark times. It is part of the good news of God, who loves them dearly and wants to be with them eternally. Heaven is real, heaven is a place but most importantly heaven is good company. It is with Jesus.
Heaven (will be) a place on earth. Understanding what the Bible promises is good news for us and comfort to the children and young people in our care.
Lord God, thank you for the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. Lord Jesus, thank you that you go ahead to prepare a place for your disciples. Holy Spirit help me to guide those in my care to you, that they may take comfort from your promise. Amen.