An extra large belly in a bikini unveils a lot of confidence, along with a lot of body in so little space. My bikini days are long gone, but I’m feeling something of that same dilemma. I’ve got a lot here to cram into what I fear is too little time—both yours and mine.
What to do? The best we can.
Here are the last two chapters of Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple. In them he describes what heaven will be like, God’s future kingdom-on-earth. Ezekiel calls what he saw a temple, but the apostle John, who wrote Revelation, had a similar vision, and said he saw “The Holy City, the New Jerusalem,” Ez 40:4, Re 21:2. Their descriptions match so closely, that it’s believed they saw the same thing. Putting their descriptions together, we get a better picture of our future home, (http://thirdmill.org/articles/jon_menn/jon_menn.BEA3.html).
God speaks in terms his hearers can understand about future realities that are so far outside our present frame of reference, we just won’t really “get it” until we get there. The details these men share are ones that give us the feel of the place, along with the assurance of the most important thing: God is there. In fact, the name Ezekiel gives the city he describes is “The Lord is There,” and this is basically what John says, too, Ez 48:35, Re 21:3. They speak in descriptions that made sense to them at the time based on what they saw that blew their minds.
What flows for me through their descriptions is the extraordinary goodness of heaven, highlighted in ordinary things like a river, a land, and a city. Like the exiles in Babylon, we, too, need reassurances that our future is a good one and that it’s held by a good God who will be there for us. So what will heaven-on-earth be like? In broadest strokes, it will be a place of celebration, of thriving, of home, of service, and of beauty,
If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll remember that the people inside the temple’s courtyard were celebrating the wedding supper of the Lamb, complete with an all you can eat meat bar with enough guests to require crowd control. It’ll be a party literally to end all parties because, well, it’s a party that never ends, (for that story, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/23/november-23/).
Is the wedding supper analogy itself meant literally? I don’t know. I’m guessing that a rockin’ party is the closest thing we have for understanding what we will do and how we will feel in heaven. It will be the greatest celebration possible in every particular, so grand that what we now call a party will pale by comparison, the way dressing up Barbie dolls for a wedding pales in comparison to the real deal.
In chapter 47, the angel brings Ezekiel to the front doors of the temple where he sees water trickling out from under the threshold, going east, the same direction the temple faces. They follow the trickle, the angel measuring the line it makes as they walk along in the water, Ez 47:1-3.
He measures 1000 cubit distances at a time (about 5 football fields in length), and Ezekiel notices the water steadily getting deeper. It was a trickle at the temple door, but after the first 1000 cubits, it’s ankle high and then knee high and then waist high, deepening with every 1000 cubits that are measured, and finally so deep that it’s a river Ezekiel can swim in “that no one could cross,” Ez 47:4-5.
The angel asks him, “Son of man, do you see this?” I’m guessing he knows Ezekiel sees it, but what he’s getting at is, “Are you taking note of what you see?” Ezekiel’s been told that he’s been given this vision to share with the exiles in Babylon, so this must be worth sharing, Ez 47:6.
What is it about the water that’s worth sharing?
The water is flowing from the temple, and since the temple is Jesus, then the water is flowing from Jesus, (Jesus is said to be the temple in Jn 2:19, Re 21:22). In John’s vision, he says that water flows “from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city,” Re 21:21, 22:1. Since Jesus is also the Lamb, we find here the same information in both Ezekiel and John: water flows from God and Jesus.
Something rings a bell, and I remember the Samaritan woman at the well, and the water that Jesus turned to wine at a wedding, and the water he walked on when Peter couldn’t. And I remember God dividing the Red Sea with the Egyptians hot on the trail, the water he brings out of the rock in the desert, the runaway he pulls out of the ocean with a fish.
God and Jesus have close connections with water. Jesus tells the woman at the well that he’s got water to drink that she knows nothing about, but that if he gives it to her, it will become a spring of water that wells up and gives her eternal life, so she’ll never be thirsty again, Jn 4:13-14.
At a festival another time, Jesus announces loudly in the middle of a crowd that “‘Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive,” Jn 7:38-39.
God also says he’s “the spring of living water,” and Jeremiah agrees and says the same thing back to him, Je 2:13; 17:13.
Based on the above, it’s clear that the water from the temple-throne comes from God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and that it isn’t ordinary water. This water is alive–it’s “living water.” It’s water with the power to give eternal life. Needless to say, it makes folks thrive.
I look back in Ezekiel and read, “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither nor will there fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing,” Ez 47:12. The living water from the temple, from Jesus, God, and the Spirit, gives life and fruit and healing to the trees for its use. Would some of these fruits include ones the Spirit gives–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control? I don’t know.
I remember that the person who delights in God’s word is like a tree that’s planted by streams of water, “which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither–whatever they do prospers,” Ps 1:1. Sure sounds similar. Maybe these trees aren’t trees at all. Maybe the “trees” here are those who draw water from the river through God’s word and share it with others. Maybe their teaching is what’s meant by the fruit that feeds and the leaves that heal?
Revelation suggests this same idea. These trees along the river that bear fruit and have healing leaves are mentioned there, too. John called the trees “the tree of life” and his description includes this detail: “And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse,” Re 22:2-3.
But there won’t be sickness or sorrow in heaven. I distinctly remember there won’t be any tears or death. What’s the healing that will be needed? Won’t everyone in heaven already be perfect? Without question, there won’t be sin or death or tears. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be complete, Re 21:4, 27.
Jesus became perfect by the trials he went through, not in the sense of perfect rather than sinful, but in the sense of perfect meaning “fully equipped.” Jesus became the perfect high priest who understands everything we face, because as a man, he’s been there, too. In that sense, he became the Savior, the high priest, who was wholly and completely able to help us and empathize with us, because he was one of us, He 5:7-10.
If there are trees of life that give healing for the curse, and if they bear monthly, and if they’re for food and healing, it seems like it would be because there’s a continual need for the fruit and leaves of these trees in order to continue to live.
Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden and the entrance was barred so they couldn’t get back in and eat from this tree and live forever. Whatever the healing is that happens because of the leaves, it’s life giving, it’s curse reversing, and it seems to be a continual thing, as in, an ongoing renewal. And while there’s no sin in heaven, maybe there’s continued growing? Maybe living forever will involve some fruit picking and leaf crushing. Maybe there’s also a more-and-more becoming of who God’s always had in mind for us to be.
My take away thus far is that heaven is going to be more than just sitting around singing with a harp and wings. It’s going to look more like earth than I expected. It sounds like we’ll need to get something like fruit and leaves from trees, and that we’ll need to be continually renewed in some way. Maybe there will be learning. Though Jesus’ death broke the power of the curse–sin and death–over us, maybe there are far reaching effects of sin that will still need healing?
Of course the reality of heaven could all be well outside and beyond what’s described, too. How do you put news about what amounts to an iPhone in terms an ancient Israelite in 500 BC can understand, or someone in 2020 for that matter (I still can’t figure out how to backup my new phone)? Since this is what God’s already done in other visions, I’m guessing he’s doing it here, too.
And I haven’t even mentioned that this water makes salt water fresh; that swarms of fish, as many kinds as are in the ocean, live in it; or that fishermen catch fish in nets along this golden shore. Some think the fishermen represent folks who actively reach out to others with the gospel, and that the river bed is the church that channels the water, and that the fish are the people of all nations who thrive and frolic in the water that is God.
The depth of the water has been likened to an increasing understanding of God, starting out with little splashes of him but eventually wallowing whole hog, doing back flips and somersaults in the joy of living in the environment we were made for. I like all of these, but which interpretations are real and true? No idea. (http://studylight.org/bible/cev/ezekiel/47-10.html).
What I love thinking about more is this: the living water of God is healing, it’s life giving, it’s renewing, it’s refreshing, it’s continual, it’s fun. And it’s so deep it has to be swum, so wide it cannot be done. I think of living water as God’s love that flows into bitter waters (people, circumstances, places) and makes them sweet. It’s what produces fruit in lives for themselves and others. It attracts people from around the world because it’s just that darn good, “…so where the river flows, everything will live,” Ez 1:9.
Real love? Who can resist it? How many folks really have it? Wherever we find it, it can only flow from God, from his throne, from his Son by his Spirit. And it brings life–everything it touches lives. We don’t have to wait to get to heaven to have it. We have access to it now, because of Jesus, by his Spirit, every moment of every day. The woman at the well didn’t die to receive this living water from the Spirit. She received it from Jesus and went home and told everybody about it, Jn 4:28-30.
Land would have been very much on the minds of the exiles. As he described the river, they had to be wondering, what about our land? So he describes the land divisions that would be made for Israel. In fact, it takes up the majority of the verses in these chapters for today, 47:13-48:29. I’m guessing that, like the new temple, their meaning is symbolic and doesn’t refer to a literal land division in God’s heaven-on-earth kingdom.
They’re said, instead, to give the exiles a sense of home that’s been tied to their precious promised land since Abraham, over 1400 years before. Since they’ve lost their homes and their land since moving to Babylon, it would be heartening to hear that they will have a physical place to be in God’s future kingdom, the same place he’d given their ancestors.
And while the actual boundaries of rivers and land and cities mentioned might not be literally meant (but of course, surely could be), the truth that this land connects with is literally true: heaven-on-earth will be a place of safety and home and community and belonging. These things are exactly what’s ahead for them, and for us, too. These are the needs of humanity, not just of the Israelites. We all want to find that one place, our own place, where we are completely loved and safe. Home. This is what heaven will be.
This piece surprises me. I’ve always imagined doing a lot of resting when I get to heaven, but then I think, well, rest is a little boring if you feel good. I’m guessing we will want to work in some way, and here’s what comes next. There will be jobs to do.
For one thing, there’s the produce mentioned that will be growing on the land designated for farming outside the City of God. Somebody will be working those farms and harvesting that food and getting it to people to eat. Maybe it’s symbolic. Who knows? One thing is sure: we will eat. God doesn’t say “wedding supper” with meat cooking on the grill in the temple as a tease. He knows how much people love to eat–it’s his idea, Ez 48:18-19.
There’s also mention of those who serve God in the city, “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever,” Re 22:3-5. Here’s a new twist on serving: we will have God’s name on us in some kind of forehead tat, and we will reign. What will we do? We will judge angels, for one thing, 1 Co 6:3. No telling what else.
There’s also beauty in God’s city. The city itself is made of gold, as are the streets. The gates are made from pearls. The foundation is layered with precious stones–jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst, 21:18-21. Here John writes that the 12 precious stones of the city’s foundation have the 12 apostles’ names on them; the city gates are named for the 12 tribes.
What’s conveyed is an astonishing, jaw dropping beauty of unseen equal. No building on earth has 12 layers of precious stones to sit on, much less an entire city, wall included. No one has a house of pure gold, let alone lives on a gold paved street. Whatever heaven is, it will be at least as spectacular as this. I’m guessing even more so. This will be a place of heartbreaking beauty, a feast for our eyes in a wealth of materials and an abundance of everything that is best.
There’s a reason John says the city looks “as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband,” Re 21:2. Bedazzled. Bejeweled. Opulent. This is where we are heading.
I’ve saved the best for last: we will be in God’s physical presence, and we will see his face and the face of Jesus, our One True Love. Ezekiel says the new name of the city is Yahweh Shammah, which means “The Lord is there.” There will be no more seeking God, because he will be found and known. What will it be like to be in his presence? I’m not a good enough dreamer to imagine it, much less writer to tell it.
What I can put my head around is all of the best scenes and scents and sights and sounds and flavors and feels of my life rolled into one and multiplied x infinity. And even that is only the beginning. Because the longing of every heart, every tear, every sigh, and every wound will be finally and forever swallowed up into love, and we will feel like we have finally found what we’ve been looking for all of our lives. Everything before this will be like the wooden Pinocchio before he became the real boy, like hearing the sound of waves in a seashell compared to having the surf pound around you on the beach.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘Now the dwelling of God is with mankind,
and he will live with them.
They will be his people,
and God himself will be with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away…
I am making everything new!…
Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.
It is done,'”
My take away today is the wonder of all that God has planned for us who believe. When I consider all of this and how I’ve only described the tip of the iceberg, I’m undone at the thought of so much more.
I can never imagine more goodness than you have, more love than you are, more joy than is available, or more glories than heaven contains. Thank you, Father, Son, Spirit, for making such a place for one day–and for filling me with yourself and your living water today.
“All my fountains are in you,” Ps. 87:7.