May 20th, 2007
“Paradise Restored in Christ”
What will it be like in heaven? Books and movies speculate about how we will spend our time, or the 5 people we’ll meet there. Or maybe you have your own ideas of what it will be like – a giant, perfectly manicured golf course (where you always shoot under par), or a place where chocolate candy bars grown on trees. Maybe you think of it as just a bunch of clouds and people strumming harps all day.
But the Hollywood stories aren’t so interested in the truth as they are a good story. And our own ideas and imaginations are simply speculation. Where do we look to see what it will be like there? Scripture of course. And particularly in the book of Revelation.
In our reading today, God shows John a vision – the eternal home of his people, his holy city Jerusalem. And while using picture language to describe heavenly realities, what is clear is this: Heaven is paradise restored. We have only to look back to the Garden of Eden to see what Revelation is saying. The Lamb on his throne makes everything right. In heaven, paradise is restored. But let’s take a closer look. Let’s go back to Eden.
Man’s primeval home was the Garden of Eden, and here is a contrast with our forever-home, which is a city. Of course in Eden there were only 2, Adam and Eve, while Heavenly Jerusalem is filled with the people of the Lamb. But there are some striking similarities too in how these two places are described.
Both are by rivers. In Eden, the garden was planted near 4 rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Pishon and Gihon. In paradise restored, only one river is needed – the river of the water of life – and if flows directly from its source, the throne of God. In any case, water is always needed for life, and God always provides the water.
In Eden there were two special trees. One was the tree of knowledge, the other the tree of life. God forbade them from eating fruit from the tree of knowledge. And we all know how that went. Because of their disobedience, God mercifully barred them from the tree of life, so they would not eat of this other tree and live forever in their sins. Yet in Revelation, in the picture of heaven, the tree of life reappears, bearing fruit for God’s people year-round. Sin and death came by eating the one fruit, while life eternal comes from eating the other.
Likewise, leaves play a part in both accounts. Once fig leaves that were used to cover the shame of Adam and Eve’s sin. But there in heaven, “The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”.
In Eden, the results of sin brought the curse to both Man and Women. But in heavenly Jerusalem, “No longer will there be anything accursed”
In Eden, God walked in the garden – his presence was so very near. But in judgment they were expelled from the garden and sin separated them from God. But in heavenly Jerusalem, “they will see his face” once again.
Shortly after God created the day and night and sun and moon, man ruined the creation. But the new creation is even better than the first – with no more night or need of light – for God himself and Christ will be their light and lamp.
And shortly after Eden, the firstborn son of Eve became a murderer, and needed a special mark on his head to protect him from the wrath of other men. In heavenly Jerusalem, God’s people bear his name on their foreheads – a mark of belonging to him.
So many parallels. So many connections. We can see in Revelation that paradise is restored. We can see God’s plan for his people come full circle. We can look back, and we can look forward, but what ties it all together is what happened just outside of earthly Jerusalem 2000 years ago. There at the cross, the nexus of all history, Jesus by his death brought paradise to the dying thief and to the dying world.
We can see paradise at the beginning, and we can see paradise at the end. But we can see it even now, through Christ.
We Christians bear the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A name which was placed upon us at the font.
We come to the river of the water of life in Holy Baptism, where Christ’s cleansing and life-giving waters wash over and renew us. The baptism of Jesus is the mighty Euphrates of Forgiveness.
We are not covered with fig leaves of our own making. We are not even covered with animal skins provided by God. We receive the robe of Christ’s righteousness.
And we benefit from the tree. By the tree of the Cross, Jesus wins for us access once again to the Tree of Life.
We eat of the fruits of his cross – his own body and blood given and shed there for us. In this sacrament, Christ is truly present with us – not as visible, but just as present as he was in Eden and will be in heavenly Jerusalem.
And we are freed from the curse even now, because we are freed from sin and all its wages. For those of us who trust in Christ, who celebrate even now his resurrection from the dead, we too shall rise to newness of life – indeed we already have – and will bodily rise at the day of his coming.
In Christ, the whole of Scripture finds fulfillment. In Christ, everything that went wrong in Eden is once again made right. In Christ, God has made us new, and will soon make everything new. In Christ, paradise is restored, our curse is removed, and we receive life forever.