When I was growing up, I thought of heaven as Disneyland. Disneyland was “the happiest place on earth.” Heaven would just be the best Disneyland ever. What added to my belief was that it did not seem anyone really knew anything about heaven except for streets of gold and pearly gates, which frankly, didn’t really impress me – Disneyland with streets of gold? Others spoke of their own dreams of what heaven would be, which usually referred some personal desire realized in the age to come. Or as some would say, heaven is just, well, heaven – what more can be said?
Therefore consider, is heaven the ultimate goal? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t want the “reward reserved for us in heaven” (Col. 1:5), but what is the reward? What is it about heaven that should drive us to happily “sell all we have” in order to obtain the treasure? Is it simply the avoidance of hell? I believe much of the answer is found in the reading of Genesis 1-2.
Genesis 1:27-28 “Let us make man in our image after our likeness…”
When God created us in his image it indicated his desire to have a relationship with us. Out of all God’s creation, we are the only ones to have an image like his, and therefore the potential to live with him. Further, God commanded that man “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Thus we are to reflect our Creator, filling the earth with his image. Even though we fractured the image, through Christ we are being re-created in his image (2 Cor. 3:18). Filling the earth carried with it the idea of expanding the borders of Eden so that God could dwell with man through the whole world, a concept repeated in Isaiah 11:9; 54:1-3.
Genesis 2:2-3 “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”
- God spoke of the seventh day quite differently than the previous days of creation.
- “Seventh” is repeated three times and referenced two more times to give emphasis to its importance.
- God rested on the 7th day; nothing was created. God did not cease all activity, only his act of creating. In John 5:17, Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” Jesus’ point was, God’s spiritual work was not yet accomplished and it was that work that was especially appropriate on the Sabbath.
- Unlike the other days, the seventh day is “blessed.” This is unusual since God had already blessed man and the animals, and a “day” is an inanimate object. The idea is, there is something about the seventh day that would be fruitful and beneficial.
- The seventh day did not have an “evening and morning.” This is the reason the day is blessed. The seventh day would have no end. The Hebrew writer confirmed this in 4:1-11 when he connected “God’s rest” to our heavenly reward. The writer even denied that Canaan was the rest God ultimately had in mind when he promised the land to Abraham and Joshua. We all are striving to enter that rest.
Genesis 2:8 “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”
As soon as the language of the seventh day was completed, God described the Garden of Eden. We immediately notice the abundance of the Garden, and when compared to man’s condition after the Fall, we can see the Garden as a picture of God’s rest. In the Garden, man did not work to the point of not having time to commune with God. The seventh day was not just rest, but rest with God. Notice that this was God’s desire, and was illustrated by pictures later given to Israel:
- The tabernacle/temple is a Garden picture (Ex. 25:8) with God dwelling in the midst of his chosen people.
- Canaan, the Promised Land, was a Garden picture (Cf. Joshua 5:13-15), where God again would dwell in their midst and abundantly provide for them. Canaan was not just a “land” promise but a depiction of God’s desire to give his people victory, protection, abundance (Cf. Deut. 11:10-12).
- The Sabbath gave the people one full day a week to stop regular work, rest, and spend time with God.
- The Sabbatical year gave the people one full year of rest so they could enjoy the abundance of God and have even more time to enjoy his presence.
- The Year of Jubilee gave the people both the forty-ninth year (Sabbatical year) and the fiftieth year as a time of rest and renewal, again picturing the sweetness of eternity with God.
In each of these celebrations, God was helping his people visualize that “heavenly country” spoken of in Hebrews 11:16. What really is our greatest desire in this physical life but to be with those we love? We all like to see beautiful and interesting places, but none of those places have a pull on us if we are not with those we love. Wherever they are, that’s where we want to be. In the same way, wherever our spiritual family is, that’s where we want to be. We laugh together, we love together, we share together, and most of all, we talk and enjoy our Lord together. There is nothing better than that. That is what the Lord is offering us – his presence with all his family.
Genesis 2:22-24 “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said…‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’”
We read those verses so simply. They are repeated at weddings to stress only one thing – God created marriage. But Paul quoted these words and then wrote, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). With that, God gave us the ultimate picture of that heavenly land. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world for this purpose (Eph. 1:4), that we should be his bride, whom he would “present to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).
Are we getting the picture? As Jesus said in John 14, “I go to prepare a place for you that where I am, there you may be also.” If we are thinking of our hope as anything other than being with the Lord, we have missed the purpose to which all scripture is pointing. That thought may not make some happy because they are looking for heaven to be their Disneyland. But there is only one reason why we would want heaven to be anything other than being with Jesus – we have not grown to know Jesus well enough to have fallen in love with him. This is a widespread problem! A go-to-church society that does not know the Lord strongly enough to desire his presence above all else, and is therefore religious for all the wrong reasons. As Moses said to the Lord, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Ex. 33:15). Heaven is not heaven if our bridegroom is not there.