A Great Wonder in Heaven
In some Eastern communities it was a custom that immediately after a man had married he left his bride for a season in her own home and country just where she was. He then went back to his own land and home to prepare a place for her. And in due season he returned and brought her to his own home. This ancient custom is, we think, the social background of our Lord’s great promise to His people.
He left His Bride here for “a little while”. She is still to tarry for a brief season in that same world out of which He has redeemed her. But this hour of waiting is brief. Therefore He says: “Let not your heart be troubled… in my Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14).
Christ in Heaven is, therefore, concerned with the homecoming of His people. With joy He anticipates the day when He shall present them to Himself. On earth He prayed ‘Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which Thou hast given me: for Thou lovest me before the foundation of the world.’ (John 17).
The Apostle John, in prophetic vision, saw the Church in heaven as “a great wonder.” “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars (Rev.12). Her exaltation and glorification were to him a surpassing marvel of God’s love and grace. It was a state and a change which passed beyond the bounds of recognition.
Among the great multitude he saw in Heaven there were, no doubt, some who had been his “companions in tribulation” on earth; but their glory was such that he could only ask the question: “What are these which are arrayed in white robes and whence came they?”
It was this unspeakable glorious view of their state in Heaven which made him write: “It doth not yet appear, what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him: for we shall see Him as He is.”
Scripture everywhere implies that in Heaven we shall know one another; but the change from a state of grace and suffering into a state of glory and perfect peace is so great that even a glimpse of it from this side overwhelms us with the sheer wonder of it.
There is a story from the annals of a bygone age of a poor man who had lived all his days in obscurity. In the country to which he belonged the throne had become vacant. The king who was the last known link in the royal succession had just died.
After much searching it was discovered that, by a remote and involved relationship, this poor man was of nearer kinship to the departed prince than any other. He was, therefore, immediately owned as king and lifted out of his mean circumstances into a place of supreme honour. On the day of his coronation a companion of his former days said to him: “I would hardly know you now!”
The answer was:
‘O! I hardly know myself!’
How beautifully does David express this change in the Psalm.
“He from the dust doth raise the poor,
That very low doth lie
And from the dunghill lifts the man
Oppressed with poverty:
That He may highly him advance,
And with the princes set;
With those that of his people are
The chief, even princes great.” (Ps. 113).
Even on earth the privilege of being admitted into God’s fellowship and favour fills us with joy unspeakable. When Bunyan’s Christian awoke out of his blissful sleep in the chamber called Peace he could only exclaim, ‘Where am I now? Is this the love and care of Jesus, for the men that pilgrims are?’
The figures which are used in this passage from the Book of Revelation are meant to describe the loveliness of the Church in her heavenly home. They are borrowed from the fairest scenes of creation. Sun, moon and stars are brought together to give some conception of her beauty there. Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, adorns her person and warms her heart.
The shadows have fled away, for there is no night there. The sun, risen upon her, shall no more go down. The moon, the symbol of her former night and of earth’s dimmer dispensation, is under her feet. She has now emerged out of her low estate and darkness into a dimension of unfading glory and life. Her brow is jewelled with stars; stars which she won for her Lord.
But that crown she shall lay at His feet Who alone is worthy of her adoration. ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” The seven jewels of praise mentioned in this verse the saints shall bring before Christ forever.
The Church, through her travail and ministry in this world, is the means of bringing many souls to her Lord, but the glory of all her labour shall redound to His own praise.
If her transformation is “a great wonder,” so also is her preservation. Like her Lord, she was on earth the object of the devil’s malice and of men’s hatred. And who can know “the depths of Satan”?
The final triumph of the Church is a great wonder of Gods providence and of God’s power. “Almost they consumed me on the earth.” But, “they overcame through the blood of the Lamb and the word of His testimony.”
No doubt as God’s people look back on the path that they had to traverse through life’s “great and terrible wilderness” they will say with Bunyan’s Pilgrim as he surveyed his perilous passage through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, “O world of wonders!’
That I should be preserv’d in that distress
That I have met with here! O blessed be
That hand that from it hath delivered me
Dangers in darkness, devils, hell, and sin,
Did compass me while I this vale was in:
Yea, snares, and pits, and traps, and nets did lie
My path about, that worthless silly I
Might have been catch’d, entangled, and cast down:
But since I lived, let Jesus wear the crown.”
Many of God’s people while they rejoice in the hope of heaven dread the last dark vale which separates time from eternity. The implications of physical death are so awe inspiring that some of God’s choicest saints have trembled as they saw eternity come into view, and time, with its irrevocable opportunities and persistent neglects coming to a final end.
We believe, however, that “dying in the Lord’ has deeper consolations than anything we have known or enjoyed in this life. He is very near to us then. “When thou passest through the waters, I shall be with thee.”
He went this way Himself and He knows how to comfort us as Death beckons us away. Besides, our translation from these broken scenes into God’s presence only takes a moment.
“Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” It was God’s promise to David that dissolved his fear of the valley of the shadow of death. “I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” Death cannot harm us since Christ endured its sting. In this way He deprived him of his power and ability to hurt us.
Sometimes as we stand by the beds of our dying Christian friends we may infer how great is their happiness as they move away from us. Some of them are able to tell us a little of what they feel and see as their souls stand on the threshold of glory. Let me give an example; just one out of many. Many years ago a young woman entered a church in her native Lochaber.
Her name was Margaret MacKinnon. The minister, the Rev. Donald MacFarlane, read his text which was from the Prophecy of Jeremiah. “O! Hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest Thou be a stranger in the land, or as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night.’
As these words were read, her heart was deeply touched. That day marked her spiritual rebirth. God took possession of her soul, and from that hour she also became a wayfarer on earth, seeking “the city that hath foundations,” and no longer a stranger to God.
Shortly afterwards in the town of Inverness she entered a church. The congregation were singing a Psalm which, in her experience at least, instantly transformed the place into a Bethel.
The words sang were:
“God is of mine inheritance
And cup the portion.
The lot that fallen is to me
Thou dost maintain alone.”
God’s love flooded her soul, and for a season she walked in the light of His face. God, indeed, was preparing her for heaven. Within a few months she took ill. But as death approached, her soul was wrapped up in unspeakable joy.
On the day on which she died it was light at eventide, “Oh!,” she exclaimed, “I have much joy,” and a little later she cried again, “My joy is increasing! Do you see the angels?” She said after a while, ’I see them. They are very many and their robes are shining white’
Then she asked the time and on being told, she replied. ”In half an hour I shall join the angels. They are waiting for me with a smile on their faces.” In exactly half an hour she peacefully breathed her last.
Even when Death comes suddenly and in the garments of terror we may, as in the case of Stephen, be instantly delivered from all fear in finding ourselves standing, with eyes unveiled, on the threshold of the world of glory.
On a dark New Year’s Day morning in 1919 a ship, carrying hundreds of sailors to their Hebridean homes, struck a treacherous rock and sank. Two lads were struggling in the waves. ‘’We are going down,” said the one to his friend. The other, an excellent Christian boy replied, ‘’No; I am going up.” Having said that a huge wave passed over his head and he was seen no more. His companion survived to tell the story to his loved ones.
Some of God’s people, we know, die with their lips sealed. They pass out in silence and in the stillness of their last sleep. God would have it so. But the same joy and ministry await all who love Him.
The moment Christ, the Beloved, draws the curtain which separates time from eternity we stand in His blissful presence. We are Home. It is good, therefore, to wait for the salvation of the Lord, till the day of trial is over and we hear His welcoming voice, ”Arise my love, my fair one, and come away.
If, as Sir Herbert Grierson believed, the story of Rebecca’s wooing, her long pilgrimage to the land where her husband dwelt, and her final joy in seeing face to face the one whom she had not seen and yet loved is, in the realm of literature, one of the loveliest stories ever penned on earth; on the other hand the loveliest story that has been proclaimed on earth and which shall be celebrated in the songs of the Redeemed in Heaven is the story of Christ’s love for His Bride and the everlasting bliss of those who answer “I will” to His call.