What is Heaven Like Now AND What is the GREATEST Commandment? #156
Hello friends and happy Tuesday! Today we are going to do a rare thing for this pod – we are going to tackle two different questions from two different passages. Although this might seem to be against the rules for Bible podcasts of this type, I looked in the Bible and found that there were, in fact, NO rules prohibiting daily Bible podcasts from covering two distinct questions, so that is a relief. Today’s Bible passages include TWO foci/focuses (foci always sounds so pretentious)…Deuteronomy 6 (focus passage #1 and home of the Greatest commandment), Psalms 89, Isaiah 34, and our second focus passage, Revelation 4 – which gives us a peak into the throne room of Heaven.
Here’s a bit of Bible trivia that should win you a few bar bets. (Ok…I’m just kidding. Christians shouldn’t bet. In bars, should they?) 😉 What are the greatest commandments, according to Jesus? Fortunately for us, Jesus is asked that question, and He tells us:
28 One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which command is the most important of all?”29 Jesus answered, “The most important is Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.31 The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.”32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, teacher. You have correctly said that he is one, and there is no one else except him. 33 And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to question him any longer.
That’s not the bar trivia though, this is: Are either of the first or second greatest commandments – according to Jesus – found in the Ten Commandments? And the astonishing answer is…NO! Rather, the greatest commandment is in Deuteronomy 6 and the second greatest is in Leviticus 19! Interestingly, the Old Testament does NOT come out and tell us that Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19 contain the first and second greatest commandment, but you can sort of tell in Deuteronomy 6 that Moses is leading up to a very important command. Let’s read it!
6 “This is the command—the statutes and ordinances—the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, so that you may follow them in the land you are about to enter and possess. 2 Do this so that you may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life by keeping all his statutes and commands I am giving you, your son, and your grandson, and so that you may have a long life. 3 Listen, Israel, and be careful to follow them, so that you may prosper and multiply greatly, because the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you a land flowing with milk and honey.4 “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.
In Hebrew culture, this is called The Shema from the verb ”שְׁמַע Sh’ma ‘listen/hear’ (Hear, O Israel -the Lord is one…) Observant Jews are to pray the Shema daily, and it is often the last words they utter before death. For Christians and Jews, the centerpiece command and understanding of following God is to love Him, as we discussed yesterday in Jesus’ letter to the church at Laodicea.
I appreciate Origen’s take on this passage for its simplicity and profundity. (And I note that he wrote this over 1700 years ago!)
The question itself, however, was this: “What is the greatest command of the law?”—a question of great worth which will allow us to explain something of the differences between these commands. For certain commands are very great, but certain others are secondary. Hence we must look at each right down to the least important of these commands. For if in the baiting of the Pharisees and their asking, “What is the greater commandment of the law?” Christ had not responded, then we would conclude that one command was no greater than another. : However, now as he responds, he says, “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul and your whole mind.” This is the greatest and the first commandment. His statement contains something necessary for us to know, since it is the greatest. The others are inferior to it.
Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 14-28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 157.
To learn more about Origen, just Google ‘Origen’s daring deed.” If you dare…
Now let’s talk briefly about what Heaven looks like. Let’s start by reading Revelation chapter 4.
What do you notice?
2 Immediately I was in the Spirit, and there was a throne in heaven and someone was seated on it. 3 The one seated there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian stone. A rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald surrounded the throne.4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones sat twenty-four elders dressed in white clothes, with golden crowns on their heads.5 Flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder came from the throne. Seven fiery torches were burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. 6 Something like a sea of glass, similar to crystal, was also before the throne.Four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back were around the throne on each side.
What an active scene!! As we have discussed before, jaspers and carnelians are a deep shade of red – almost blood red. So does that mean that God is red/reddish in color – as in the color of His…skin? Covering? Appearance? It certainly seems that way! As well, there is the remarkable emerald rainbow that we have also discussed before. Last night my wife and I (and my son and I) both went to the ocean at dark, and saw a large fleet of ships out on Monterey Bay in central California. They had the most beautiful green lights out (fishing for squid) and those green lights reflecting off of the waves had an almost rainbow like appearance that was stunningly beautiful and reminded me of Revelation 4. We also see lots of thrones and LOTS of brightness as there are lightning strikes and thunder roars coming from the direction of the throne. In addition, there is a sea of glass (another reason those boats reminded me of Heaven last night. Emily Farahmand…) that is apparently sea through and gleams like crystal. Finally, there are these remarkable beings called “living creatures” around the throne, and these beings sound absolutely amazing to behold. If they are the same ‘living creatures’ as identified in Ezekiel 1, then these beings are actually Cherubim – heavenly guardians of God’s throne room. (And I believe they are.)
We’ll close out our discussion of Heaven with some great notes on this passage from Jonathan Edwards:
“And there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” The rainbow, we know, was appointed of God as a token of his gracious covenant with mankind. God is encompassed with a rainbow, which signifies that as he sits, and reigns, and manifests himself in his church, he appears as encompassed with mercy, as of old the throne of God in the holy of holies, where God manifested himself in the church of Israel, was called the mercy seat. So here there is a rainbow, the sign of God’s gracious covenant, round about the throne that he sits on. This rainbow was “in sight like unto an emerald,” which is a precious stone of an exceeding lovely green color, so green that this color appears in nothing else so lively and lovely. This color is a most fit emblem of divine grace; it is a very lively color, not so dull as blue or purple, and yet most easy to the sight, more easy than the more fiery colors of yellow and red. It is the color of all the grass, herbs, and trees, and growth of the earth, and therefore fitly denotes life, flourishing, prosperity, and happiness, which are often in Scripture compared to the green and flourishing growth of the earth. As the benign influence of the sun on the face of the earth is shown by this color above all others, so is the grace, and benign influence, and communication of God fitly represented by this color. This color is the color of joy and gladness. The fields are said to shout for joy, and also to sing, by their appearing in a cheerful green. As the color red is made use of to signify God’s revenging justice, in Zech. 1:8 and elsewhere, so is green the emblem of divine grace. As Dr. Doddridge observes, this don’t imply that the rainbow had no other color, “but that the proportion of green was greater than ordinary.”2
Jonathan Edwards, Notes on Scripture, ed. Harry S. Stout and Stephen J. Stein, vol. 15, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (London; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 224–225.