The Day of the Lord

In churches that use a pericope system (a system of bible readings that can cover one to three years), this time of year, near the end of the Church year, is often dedicated to passages about Judgment Day.  Judgment Day is definitely a part of the conversation if we want to be comprehensive in talking about life after death.  Everyone will be a participant in Judgment Day, says the Bible, like it or not.

Judgment Day is a very prominent theme in Scripture, all of the Abrahamic religions and even within our secular society. Prominent or not, Judgment Day is largely misunderstood, especially with respect to the role it plays in a Christian’s existence.

So what do you think of when Judgment Day is mentioned? Is it destruction and mayhem? Is it a mass extinction event caused by natural catastrophe, nuclear war, or even intelligent robots? Our fears get embodied in Judgment Day themes, and in general, Judgment Day is something we fear. There are fearful events connected with Judgment Day for sure, but there is also hope and promise.

In our study of Judgment Day and Judgment Day-like themes in the Bible, we start with a phrase, “The Day of the Lord”.

 The Day of the Lord

The first revelations about the coming of God’s judgment start in the Old Testament prophetic books. Here a phrase is coined, “The day of the Lord”. Immediately, we might conclude that “the day of the Lord” has to be Judgment Day. Without a doubt there is a connection, but it seems that there have been several such days with perhaps more to come. In each case, there is strong negative judgment carried out by God. Considering that God characterizes Himself as a God of love, why would the “day of the Lord” be a day of harsh judgment?

Several things are important to recognize about the character of God and His bringing judgments on the people of Earth. First, we must note that God is not quick to arrive at a day of Judgment, nor does He do so without a long time of warning. Bringing punishment is not God’s goal. Showing mercy, granting forgiveness and relenting from judgment are preferred by God. That said, God will bring judgment. We say that this is His “alien” character. It is contrary to His main character. But it is a part of His character and we would be wise to respect this.

Those who want to focus solely on God’s love for the purpose of dismissing judgment or denying hell, do no one a favor. Their logic about how God has and will operate is flawed. God does bring judgment, even permanent judgment on sin, but not without providing every opportunity for repentance and forgiveness.

Probably the first chronologically to speak of the “Day of the Lord” is Amos, though it seems to be a topic already understood by the people around him. He says in chapter 5:

18 

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!

Why would you have the day of the Lord?

It is darkness, and not light,

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as if a man fled from a lion,

and a bear met him,

or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,

and a serpent bit him.

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Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,

and gloom with no brightness in it?

 

Apparently, people were looking forward to God’s judgment because they thought it would affect other nations and not them. But is this a reference to Judgment Day? Amos later explains, “I will send you into exile beyond Damascus”. In this case, “the day of the Lord”, is the Babylonian exile–a day when God will bring judgment on His disobedient people. So why talk about it here? The phrase is definitely used in a New Testament context to speak of Judgment Day. In other Old Testament references it could be so as well. Considering the use of “the day of the Lord”, it would appear that the Babylonian Exile was a type, or mini-version, of Judgment Day itself.

Isaiah also has language about the “Day of the Lord” that seems to be a double entendre. In chapter two he warns Israel about impending judgment on them because of their cultic practices, materialism and idolatry. Yet there are phrases here that are quoted in Revelation in regard to Judgment Day. In this case references to hiding from God in caves and underground. In chapter thirteen, the warning moves to Babylon. Their “day of the Lord” will come at the hands of the Medes, but Isaiah also speaks of the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light, both used in the New Testament about Judgment Day.

 

What Kind of Music Is In Heaven?

For many of us, music is a big part of everyday life.  Music can both sooth and excite.  It is proven that music can assist our memory.  It clearly interacts with our brains in a special way.

When we think about Heaven musically, probably the first thing you think of is the harp.  It is definitely a big part of our cultural picture of Heaven.  I once had a church member who was hospitalized and close to death.  Our local hospital had a woman who would go to patients’ rooms to play the harp because it was so soothing.  As this woman entered the room of my member, she asked, “Would you like to hear some harp music?”  This feisty old lady replied, “No, honey, I’ll be hearing plenty of that soon enough.”

But will she?  Harps are mentioned in Revelation 5 and 15, but it is important to remember that all of the pictures of Heaven found in the Bible are visions, not field trips.  The big difference is that a vision can have symbolic elements to it, similar to our dreams.  They can also be simplified so that we can relate to what was seen.  Harps were the possessions of the wealthy in the time of the Bible.  They represented having leisure.  That may be all the harp represents in Revelation.

The Bible, especially Revelation, does speak of singing in Heaven.  Including the phrase “new song”.  Those who have had out of body experiences of Heaven often also mention the music, and how captivating it is.  Expect heavenly music to be a musical genre that is truly something new to you.  Something hard to describe and never before experienced.  If you don’t care for harp music or even hymns, don’t let that darken your mental image of Heaven.  The desire to praise God and to do it with song will be as natural to you as breathing is now.

Daniel’s Vision of Heaven

Most of the information that we have about Heaven comes in the form of visions.  It is important to note that visions are not field trips.  They are messages.  As such, they come embedded with symbolic meaning or modify the reality of Heaven so that we can comprehend it.  One such vision is found in Daniel 7.

As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing out from before Him. Thousands upon thousands attended Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.

Here is a description ripe for misinterpretation. Remember that this is a vision, not a heavenly version of C-Span, where Daniel is watching the actual proceedings. Not only are we told that no one has gone into Heaven, we are also told that no one has ever seen God. So, even though Daniel describes God on His throne, he is not actually observing God. This image described here is then a symbolic image or manifestation for Daniel’s benefit. We would therefore be errant to conclude that God is an old man in a flaming wheel chair. First, the hair is white, not because of age, but because of glory. When Jesus appears gloriously in Revelation 1 his hair is also “white like wool”. The wheels referred to in Daniel no doubt correspond to “wheels” that are described in Ezekiel 1. The function of these “wheels” is unknown. Their description sounds somewhat like a gyroscope, but they are definitely not the wheels of a wheelchair.

What do we learn about Heaven from this reading?   For one, humans will not be alone there. God is attended by thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand (100 million or so) stood before Him. Thousands and millions of what? Not humans according to Jesus. These must be angels. Angels are not humans. They are a species all of their own.

It would also seem that God doesn’t just sit on a throne all the time. The court was seated, suggesting that there is somewhere else to be beyond the throne room.

The last thing to point out in this reading is the river of fire. In Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22 a river of living water flows from the temple of God. In those passages the message is of God’s blessing. Here in Daniel the message is of impending wrath upon certain nations. In both cases the river is most likely a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Jesus refers to the Spirit as living water, but juxtaposition would suggest that the river of fire is also the Spirit.

The throne room of God can seem like a very alien place, and indeed it is. From bizarre creatures like the Seraphim to the multi-formed presence of the Spirit, you might find it rather frightening in description. It is true that this isn’t your living room, but, though unworthy, it is by grace that we are invited to come to this place. Far from frightening, the experience of God’s throne room will be glorious.

Is It Perfect?

Many people resort to describing Heaven with one word, perfect.  Is it?  What does that word even mean?  Without a doubt the things that can make life here miserable will not be a part of Heaven by the time we get there.  But there is at least one section of the Bible that indicates that Heaven was at one time far less than perfect.

Revelation 12:7-10:

Now war arose in Heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in Heaven saying, “Now the salvation and power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down.

This is a very different idea of Heaven then what most people think about. Heaven can’t have war, can it? But it seems that Heaven had rebellion problems just as the earth does. Satan, the source of all rebellion against God, is seen prowling around Heaven up until the time of Christ. Jesus speaks of seeing Satan fall from Heaven like lightening.   Jesus’ victory seems to be soon after a military type assault carried out by Gods’ angels against Satan and his cohort.

We can see Satan’s Old Testament access to God’s throne room in the picture of Heaven found in Job. The account gives no physical details of the place but speaks of the relationships between the “sons of God”, which includes Satan, and God himself. Satan is a tolerated and yet rebellious figure in this story, but his expulsion seems to be prevented at the time. The reasons for Satan’s continued presence in Heaven throughout the Old Testament are uncertain, but the reason probably rests in rules whose existence we can infer through biblical phrases like “it is written” and “this must happen”.

In a similar fashion we can see Satan’s antagonistic presence in Heaven in Zechariah 3. Here Satan is accusing the high priest, Joshua, of some wrongdoing. Satan is strongly rebuked by God and Joshua’s sins are forgiven.

Another Heavenly squabble is told of in Jude. This time it is the archangel Michael disputing with Satan over Moses body. No details of this dispute are found in Scripture, but a story about this event is found in the apocryphal book, the Assumption of Moses. Jesus’ words in John 3:13 would preclude anyone being “assumed into Heaven”, but apparently there is some truth in this reported dispute.

What do the stories in Job, Zechariah, Jude, and Revelation teach us about Heaven? For one, it was not as peaceful and perfect as we assume. That may no longer true, but the rebellion against God didn’t get its start on earth—it started in Heaven. Perhaps this may explain why God is intent on a new heaven and earth, as opposed to forever in Heaven.

Is It Perfect?

Many people resort to describing Heaven with one word, perfect.  Is it?  What does that word even mean?  Without a doubt the things that can make life here miserable will not be a part of Heaven by the time we get there.  But there is at least one section of the Bible that indicates that Heaven was at one time far less than perfect.

Revelation 12:7-10:

Now war arose in Heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in Heaven saying, “Now the salvation and power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down.

This is a very different idea of Heaven then what most people think about. Heaven can’t have war, can it? But it seems that Heaven had rebellion problems just as the earth does. Satan, the source of all rebellion against God, is seen prowling around Heaven up until the time of Christ. Jesus speaks of seeing Satan fall from Heaven like lightening.   Jesus’ victory seems to be soon after a military type assault carried out by Gods’ angels against Satan and his cohort.

We can see Satan’s Old Testament access to God’s throne room in the picture of Heaven found in Job. The account gives no physical details of the place but speaks of the relationships between the “sons of God”, which includes Satan, and God himself. Satan is a tolerated and yet rebellious figure in this story, but his expulsion seems to be prevented at the time. The reasons for Satan’s continued presence in Heaven throughout the Old Testament are uncertain, but the reason probably rests in rules whose existence we can infer through biblical phrases like “it is written” and “this must happen”.

In a similar fashion we can see Satan’s antagonistic presence in Heaven in Zechariah 3. Here Satan is accusing the high priest, Joshua, of some wrongdoing. Satan is strongly rebuked by God and Joshua’s sins are forgiven.

Another Heavenly squabble is told of in Jude. This time it is the archangel Michael disputing with Satan over Moses body. No details of this dispute are found in Scripture, but a story about this event is found in the apocryphal book, the Assumption of Moses. Jesus’ words in John 3:13 would preclude anyone being “assumed into Heaven”, but apparently there is some truth in this reported dispute.

What do the stories in Job, Zechariah, Jude, and Revelation teach us about Heaven? For one, it was not as peaceful and perfect as we assume. That may no longer true, but the rebellion against God didn’t get its start on earth—it started in Heaven. Perhaps this may explain why God is intent on a new heaven and earth, as opposed to forever in Heaven.

But I Don’t Like Cloudy Weather

Google Heaven and go to Images.  What do you see?  A lot of clouds.  Is Heaven a shiny city on clouds?  If so, that isn’t very exciting.  The description of Heaven as cloudy is a misunderstanding of the Biblical text.  The Bible speaks of Jesus coming on the “clouds of heaven”.  This is a reference to our atmosphere and that Jesus will return to Earth from above.  Heaven, the throne room of God, does not have a cloudy floor like a bad heavy metal concert.

Physical descriptions of Heaven are very few.  You have from Revelation 4:  “Before the throne seven lamps were blazing.  These are the seven spirits of God.  Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.”  This “sea” may correlate with what the Elders of Israel saw when they went to meet God.  From Exodus 24:9f, “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel.  Under his feet was something like pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.”

The point is don’t get mislead by cultural representations of Heaven that feature mostly clouds.  If you want some picture focus in on the word, “paradise”.

What meaning is loaded into this term? The term is only used two other times in the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about his vision of heaven by saying that he was caught up into paradise—clearly a reference to Heaven. Revelation 2:7 speaks of the tree of life as being in the paradise of God. In this case it may be referring to the New Earth, but why not also Heaven?

The word itself comes from the Persian language and refers to a pleasure garden. That is why it is often used outside of the Bible to refer to the Garden of Eden. The few descriptions we have of Heaven are devoid of plants and geographical features. Because of this we are prone to fill in the blanks with clouds. If you have a drab and unexciting mental image of Heaven, then you have overlooked the word “paradise”. Keep in mind the Biblical descriptions of Heaven only give a cursory description of God’s throne room. They do not suggest that Heaven is only God’s throne room, nor do they do justice to the glory of this throne room. Some things words will just fail to adequately describe.

 

The Throne Room of God

I would like start this section with a passage about Heaven that is frequently overlooked. It is John 3:13:

No one has ascended into Heaven except he who descended from Heaven, the Son of Man.

This is a “wow” statement when you think about it. Jesus is unequivocally saying that nobody has been to Heaven to that point. That means that the two Old Testament visions of Heaven that seem like the person travels to Heaven (Isa. 6, Dan. 7) were just that—visions. They were not field trips. Even though the Bible says that a fiery chariot took Elijah into Heaven. It does not mean that Elijah went to the throne room of God, it just means that the chariot took him up. The word “heavens” can be used to refer to outer space, so it is important to watch your context. This verse also means all those Old Testament people who have been considered “righteous” still had not yet received their righteousness from Christ and gone to Heaven. The punishment for their sins had only been suspended for the time being (see Romans 3:25b). They awaited Christ’s victory in a pleasant portion of Sheol.

Why hadn’t anybody ascended to Heaven up to the time Jesus made that statement? We are sinners and do not deserve to be there. Perhaps we could not even survive being there in our condition. Only atonement for sin can change that situation and when this was spoken Jesus had still not atoned for the sins of the world.

This raises an interesting question about Isaiah’s experience. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah experiences a vision of Heaven and he also experiences his unworthiness. He says, “Woe to me! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of people with unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of (hosts.)” I’m sure Isaiah doesn’t know what exactly has happened to him. He doesn’t know if he is actually in Heaven or still in the temple and seeing Heaven. We would call it an out-of-body experience, but it would appear from Jesus’ statement above that he wasn’t as “out-of-body” as he perhaps felt.

Isaiah saw the throne room of God, but only as a vision. Even though only a vision, Isaiah was struck by his unworthiness to be there. “Woe to me” he said, “For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among people of unclean lips.” Heaven isn’t heavenly for those who are unworthy to be there. The holiness of God is stressful for Isaiah in a vision, and possibly lethal for him in person. Still, God gave Isaiah this vision for a purpose. God had a mission to give him and the means to carry it out.

In his vision, Isaiah sees several bizarre creatures in the throne room of God. He calls them, “burning ones”, or Seraphim. The seraphim respond to Isaiah’s unworthiness in this way:

Then one of seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

I have always found this fascinating. Why didn’t Isaiah get burned? Why do coals on the altar atone for him? There is no answer given, so we can’t conclusively say. Perhaps the reason is that Isaiah wasn’t really there, so no burn. The altar that this refers to is the one copied in the Jerusalem temple where sacrifices were made. The Bible is clear that animal sacrifices do not really atone for sin at all. However, they were prophetic, as Isaiah’s experience was prophetic, of a sacrifice that will really atone; and that sacrifice was Jesus.

With the sacrifice of Christ completed, can mankind enter into Heaven and into the presence of God? It would appear so. The first invitation happens on the cross. Jesus says to the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Some have interpreted Jesus’ words as saying that the thief will join Jesus in the good neighborhood of Sheol. The reasoning is simple, that is where Jesus is going next and we are not aware of a trip to Heaven until His ascension. But Jesus didn’t exactly leave us His travel itinerary. I would add to the evidence for Jesus going to Heaven on that day, Ephesians 4:8:

When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.

I don’t think the ascension referenced here is the one the disciples observed for two reasons. First, Jesus is leading the Old Testament redeemed, here referred to as “captives”, somewhere, presumably Heaven. Next, the gifts referred to is the forgiveness of sins, which would have begun immediately after Jesus had finished His task of atonement. As such, Jesus could have gone to Heaven the very day He was crucified.

Next time:  More from the throne room of God