“And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. ‘The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!'” – Revelation 18:11-14
This is the culmination of judgment that will come upon the earth at the end of time. The Lord strikes the economic prosperity of the world, bringing it into utter devastation for its idolatry and extreme extravagance that is served as a god through exchanging the glory of God for junk. (Lest you think I will be correlating this to our modern day economic situation, think otherwise).
Of particular interest is the verse that says, “The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!” If your god is stuff, this is a frightening prospect because you find (or attempt to find) your ultimate satisfaction in possessions and if this gets taken from you to this degree, you will want to die, or the ever so great “weep and mourn.”
But this passage also got me to thinking about John Piper’s book God is the Gospel in which he asks a simple question to Christians and non-Christians alike concerning heaven:
The critical question for our generation-and for every generation-is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?
Now I have no idea how God will make heaven or what it will contain. But I’ve heard a few people make comments in the past that the best game of golf will be played in heaven, and that they could just play all day long. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But the enthusiasm for such an activity over against the real joy in heaven, Jesus Himself, is sometimes concerning to hear.
But it’s no surprise if pastors and teachers are presenting heaven merely as a place of satisfying our insatiable, materialistic, idolatrous desires for stuff. Sure I’m positive that the marriage supper of the Lamb is going to be the blowout of parties. No doubt. But is that why we want to go heaven? Or for mansions? Or for young skin? Or is it because Jesus is there? And continuing Piper’s quote he sets forth a challenge for teachers of the Word as well:
And the question for Christian leaders is: Do we preach and teach and lead in such a way that people are prepared to hear that question and answer with a resounding No?
Man I hope so. That strikes a bit of fear in me to be honest, since I teach high school students. John Piper’s question really hones in on and highlights your motives for heaven and shows us teachers how we may or may not be presenting it in the best light. Not that it’s fool proof or beyond being criticized by the Word of God, but I believe that both we who learn from teachers (like me) and those who teach (like me) can gain a lot of insight into the motives of our hearts concerning heaven by pondering these simple questions.
What I pray for those reading this (professing Christians or non-Christians) is that we not be told on judgment day, “The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!” I pray our desires are increasingly being centered upon Christ alone, having seen His goodness and having been set free from eternal death by His blood; in the hope that we will enjoy Him forever, not just stuff.
Though this is a pronouncement of judgment upon a time of the earth in the future, it aptly applies to this thought: if your idea of heaven is just getting stuff, and Christ was the only one there when you arrived, would you love it more or less? This is a convicting thought and if you feel the weight of your own sin after reading this, fear not: repent and turn to Christ and He will accept you because of His perfect life lived in your place, His death in which He suffered your deserved punishment for that very sin, and His resurrection in which He gives you a new life both now and forever. But He does this all in order that we may glorify and enjoy Him forever first and foremost.
May we all focus more upon the heaven in which Christ rules in power and tenderness and less upon our small, materialistic conception of it. Though there will certainly be material greatness in heaven according to Scripture itself, our souls’ final delight must be rooted in Christ before this even.
This last verse of Martin Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God poetically paints a great picture for us in our fight toward a more eternal, Christ-centered portrait of heaven:
That word above all earthly pow’rs — No thanks to them abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours Thru Him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still — His kingdom is forever.