Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”
In 1971 former Beatles member John Lennon wrote and recorded his most famous song, Imagine. Not a loud and grating hard rock number, no avant garde musical experiment, I have to think that the tune is universally appealing. It is soft and melodious–almost like a lullaby. The theme of Imagine is a call for world peace. Maybe that dream seems too utopian, the goal unrealistic. But it’s hard to argue with the sentiment.
What’s not hard for the Christian to argue with is the route to world peace the song proposes. Do you know what the very first words are? “Imagine there’s no Heaven.” Why? The answer comes three lines later, “Imagine all the people, living for today.” That’s fine, if you are a spoiled rock star, and you make millions of dollars, and you are surrounded by people who tell you how wonderful you are. But what if you suffer from chronic pain, and there is little or no hope for a cure for your condition in your lifetime? What if you have just buried a dear loved one, someone whose life was tightly woven into the fabric of your own, someone upon whom you depended deeply? What if the only life you have known has been in a painfully dysfunctional family, or unrelenting rejection and loneliness, or abject poverty in some third world country living out of a card board box and sifting through the garbage for something to eat? What if you are simply part of the unremarkable mass of humanity spending your rather unremarkable life getting through one day to the next. Imagine there’s no heaven? That’s supposed to be a happy thought?
Fortunately, the vision in John Lennon’s song is nothing more than a fantasy. The vision in the Book of Revelation is real. There is a heaven in our future, and it won’t be long before the heaven Jesus’ promises us will be ours. “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”
While we live in this world, it seems we Christians take one beating after another. We go from defeat to defeat. Does the world embrace our message? No, more and more the things that we believe are rejected and we are pushed off to the fringes. We see it most clearly on issues like creation, the life of the unborn, and the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. But long before these things ever became issues, Jesus’ love at the cross had been rejected, his resurrection considered irrelevant. How else do we account for the fact that 80% of our fellow citizens avoid God’s house each week?
Closer to home, temptation still wins far too many battles for my heart’s affection and my life’s direction. How can it seem that our lives end in anything but defeat when every one of them will end in death?
But things are not as they appear. Even now we have the promise that God gives us the victory, even over death, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Every sinful failure has been atoned for and forgiven by his death on the cross–every one, in full. In Jesus’ death, our death sentence has been served, and our deaths have been miraculously transformed from a horrible end to a wonderful beginning. At our death our souls step through a door, where they become more truly alive than they have ever been before. That is victory. And our broken bodies aren’t finished. They are only resting until they join in the victory when Jesus returns.
This is the reward Jesus is bringing. Christian singer Bart Millard of Mercy Me wrote the song I Can Only Imagine about the real heaven Jesus has prepared. It isn’t a make-believe utopia. It’s the real thing. Today we have to use our imaginations a little to grasp what it is like. But very soon we will see it ourselves.