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“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Rev. 2:17)
Jesus is speaking here, and whenever Jesus speaks, it’s exciting. But sometimes it’s also confusing because what’s with this new name business? If God wants us to have a particular name, why didn’t He give our parents some Divine inspiration when we were born? What if we really like our names on earth? Is it possible that we’re going to have to go through all of eternity with some embarrassing identification? “Hey, Blue Face. Hey, Rainbow.” Some of us have had our fill of name mockery down here, and we’re really not looking forward to continuing the persecution in Heaven.
Forget about names for a moment and consider this: if a man has spent his entire life in a car, what does he know about walking on a beach? What does he know about swimming? What does he know about stretching out on some wonderfully soft bed? What does he know about fine dining in a restaurant or backyard barbecues? If you’re stuck inside a car, your experience of life is going to be very limited, because there are so many things you simply can’t do inside that car. Now suppose you meet a man who is in this exact predicament—he’s spent his whole life inside a car, and he’s never known anything else. When you try to describe experiences to him that he’s never had before, you’re going to have to try and put it in terms he can understand. You understand what it’s like inside a car, because you’ve spent plenty of time in cars yourself. But unlike the man, you can climb in and out of cars—you’re not permanently trapped. So you’ve experienced two worlds—the one inside the car, and the one outside. But the man has only experienced the one inside the car, so if you’re going to communicate with him effectively, you’ll have to try and put things in terms he can understand. For example, he’s never known what it’s like to walk bare foot on a lawn. You might say, “Imagine a really prickly floormat.” When describing eating in a restaurant, you might say, “Imagine that your steering wheel is gone, the dash is a lot lower and a lot wider, and you’ve got a nice plate of food on it.” To talk to this man, you’ll have to put everything in terms of life inside a car, because that’s all he knows. But there’s only so good of a job you can do with this, because most of life outside of the car won’t translate into car terms.
When Jesus wants to talk to you about Heaven, He’s facing a similar challenge. You are a spirit being who has lived your entire life trapped inside a physical earthsuit. You’re like an astronaut on the moon—he can’t survive in the lunar environment without his special spacesuit, and you need your physical body to function on this physical planet. But when you die, God is going to eject you from your earthsuit like a pilot ejecting from a plane that’s going down. Your physical body will be left on earth, and only you will go on to eternity.
Now eternity is not like earth is. Eternity is made for spirits. You won’t need a physical vessel to move about in Heaven, because Heaven is not a physical dimension like earth is. Heaven is entirely different than anything you’ve ever known—this is why it’s so problematic for Jesus to try and explain it to you. You can’t comprehend different. All you know is a physical world and your little earthsuit. You can’t imagine existing without your earthsuit. You can imagine it being upgraded to something nicer, but you can’t imagine it being entirely gone—that’s just too freaky. Now if you’re a Christian, God doesn’t want you to be freaked out about going to Heaven. He wants you think of it as a wonderful place, because that is what it is. You’re going to love being in Heaven—but for reasons that you cannot fathom right now.
Your extremely limited experience in life makes it impossible for God to accurately describe Heaven to you. So He doesn’t even try to. Instead, He uses what you know. You know earth, so God describes Heaven as a perfect earth. What’s fun about earth? Well, eating. God describes a great, heavenly banquet that you’ll be attending. What else do you like about earth? Well, money and riches. God describes Heaven as a jewel encrusted place with streets of gold and a mansion all your own. What don’t you like about earth? Well, it’s miserable to be sick. God describes medicinal trees in Heaven that are always available to you—the implication being that you’ll never feel sick again. What else don’t you like about earth? Feeling sad. God says He will wipe every tear away from your eyes. He says that in Heaven you’ll always be happy.
In the Bible, we find God describing Heaven as an ideal earth—an ideal fallen earth, that is. For example, in God’s description of Heaven, everyone’s wearing clothes: the angels, the people—even God. They’re nice clothes, mind you—well, nice if you enjoy tunics—but we have to remember that clothes were a result of sin.
Whether you’re male or female, God finds your naked body to be very pleasant to look at. You are His fabulous work of art. Do you buy a beautiful painting, hang it on a wall, and then make sure to cover it with a canvas every morning so that you’ll never see it with your eyes? What kind of sense does this make? The only reason you want clothes is because of the Fall. When we rebelled against God, part of how He retaliated was by making us feel terribly humiliated and grossly overexposed by having our nakedness revealed in public. Now some of us have managed to whittle down our shame to minimal degrees in order to deal with our extreme environments. For example, in some hot and muggy tropical rainforests, native men feel sufficiently clothed running around with nothing but a coconut shell strapped to their waists and the women don’t see any value in stuffing their baby feeding equipment into some stifling shirt. But most of us require more than that to feel comfortable down here. The ancient Jews, for example, required full length tunics to feel sufficiently covered.
You’ll notice that every time God talks to someone about Heaven in the Bible, He’s talking to a Jewish man. In the Old Testament, life in Israel revolved around farming. This is why in the Old Testament we find Yahweh describing people in Heaven converting their spears into farming equipment. What’s with the farms? Are we really going to get to the other side just to start plowing? No. God is describing the ideal life in ancient Jewish terms—and that meant living in peace on your farmland and being unafraid of getting raided by your hostile neighbors. Living in a land that was so peaceful that there was no longer a need for weapons or thick walls around cities—that was the ancient Jew’s idea of bliss. So that’s what Yahweh told them. If He had been talking to you, He would have painted a very different picture—one which aligned with your particular culture’s definition of wonderful.
Now the Jews were an intensely patriotic people. Ever wonder why the city of Jerusalem is such a central theme in Heaven? It’s because God is talking to Jews. You can’t have a Jewish paradise without Jerusalem and Yahweh’s glorious Temple. But you’ll notice that the Temple is not a consistent detail. It’s consistently there all throughout Old Testament visions of Heaven, and in the first part of Revelation, because after all, John grew up under the Old Covenant and all Old Covenant believers viewed the Temple as playing a critical role in their relationship with Yahweh. But once Jesus came, He abolished the need for a Temple, and this is why we find Jesus easing John into the concept of a Temple-less Heaven at the end of Revelation.
[John speaking] I did not see a Temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple. (Rev. 21:22)
Gee, one minute the Temple is there, the next minute it’s not. So much for a literal vision of Heaven. But you should have suspected something was wrong as soon as you read about Jesus passing out shiny new tunics to all incoming believers.
[Jesus speaking to the church in Sardis] “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with Me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.” (Rev. 3:4)
Dirt represents sin, white represents spiritual purity. Yahweh has been pairing the color white with righteousness for a long time, and here Jesus continues the theme. Now the clothes here aren’t pants and shirts, they’re dresses. John’s seeing everyone in Heaven walking around in tunics, which is what we call a man’s dress. Women have purses, men have “shoulder bags.” Women wear dresses, men wear “tunics.” Now you should be rather suspicious when you read about angelic beings and humans flitting about in a style of clothing that was all the rage in a culture that hadn’t invented pants yet. You should be suspicious about God preserving symbols of shame in Heaven—and clothes are about shame.
[John speaking] After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Rev. 7:9)
Notice something wrong here? What’s with the different languages? Remember the Tower of Babel? God got angry at the rebellion of people, so He instantly invented a myriad of languages, downloaded them into people’s brains, and suddenly no one could understand each other. Today it would be like three English speakers having a conversation, when suddenly one starts speaking Chinese, another starts speaking Swahili, and another Spanish. No one understands each other, but each man totally understands himself. What do you do? You start calling out “Does anyone understand me?!” at the top of your voice until someone else answers. Then you cluster together in common language groups and leave town to get away from the chaos. The presence of different languages in this world is another form of Divine discipline. It was God’s response to our rebellion. Languages are about causing division and slowing down our rate of rebellion. Is God really going to have everyone speaking different languages in Heaven? Of course not. Earthly punishments are not going to continue in Heaven.
[John speaking] On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Rev. 22:2)
Really?? And why do we need medicinal plants if there is no sickness in Heaven? Your “this doesn’t make sense” bell should be going off a lot as you read through descriptions of Heaven in the Bible, because there are some major problems. John sees Heaven as a massive fortified city. Fortified cities were large cities that had thick castle-like walls built around them. The walls were a defense against war. No one built walls just to do it—they were constructed out of fear. But wait—isn’t Heaven supposed to be peaceful and happy? What’s with the fortress? Well, in John’s day, war was a reality, and you felt a lot safer living inside a fortress than outside of one. Jesus is trying to convince John that Heaven is a safe and wonderful place, and He is drawing upon John’s personal experiences, and those experiences are majorly influenced by John’s historical context. This is before the days of bombs and tanks and planes. Thick walls were considered a pretty good source of protection.
Now that we realize that Jesus is talking in metaphors and not at all describing things as they actually are, let’s get back to the new name business.
[Jesus speaking] “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Rev. 2:17)
Notice the manna—there’s another totally Jewish concept. Are we really going to be munching on sweet tasting flakes in Heaven? No. We won’t be munching on anything because we won’t have bodies, we won’t have digestive systems, and we won’t be producing waste products. There won’t be bathrooms in Heaven. There won’t be outhouses or shower stalls. We won’t be doing bodily maintenance because we won’t have bodies. God has something much better in store for us than a mere upgrade of our physical shells. We’re going to ditch them entirely and be set free.
But that’s too much to grasp, so Jesus is talking manna and stones. Notice the stone is white—white is our common symbol for moral purity. Now let’s talk about names. The Jews were big on names. Names were considered a huge part of your identity. People often used their names to describe their character and destinies.
Jesus’ real name on earth was Yeshua, which means “Yahweh Saves.” This was a prophetic Name: Jesus’ destiny was to save us.
Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. (Gen. 3:20)
Eve means “life.” Eve’s name was also prophetic.
Lamech named his son Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” (Gen. 5:29)
Noah sounds like the Hebrew word for “rest.” Here dad is trying to speak prophetically over his son’s future. This is the same Noah who would live through the Flood.
Sometimes names were used to memorialize historical events.
Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided… (Gen. 10:25)
Peleg sounds like the Hebrew word for “divided.” His parents probably witnessed some breaking apart of the earth’s land masses after the Flood and they were so impressed that they decided to name their son after the event.
The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. (Gen. 25:25)
Esau means “hairy.” Apparently Esau was such a little fur ball that his parents were quite surprised by it, so they just couldn’t think around it. When Hairy’s twin brother came out, his hand was clasped around Esau’s foot. Another remarkable moment, which the nursemaid obviously commented on to his mother.
After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. (Gen. 25:26)
Jacob means “heel.” These names had to make for some interesting conversation in Isaac and Rebekah’s home. “Honey, do you hear a baby crying?” “Yeah, it sounds like little Hairy—no wait, maybe it’s the little heel grabber.”
So why did your parents give you the name that you have? Did they name you after some physical feature that you have or some strange thing that you did as a baby? Did they try to give you a prophetic name that they hoped you’d grow into or did they give you a name that would remind them of their own memories? Names were considered a very important part of your identity in ancient Jewish culture. In some cultures today, names are considered far less important, and we prefer to define ourselves by our accomplishments, talent, or careers instead. In America, one of the first questions we ask is, “What do you do for a living?” and we find the answer to that question to be far more important in defining someone than their name. But it wasn’t this way to Jewish John, and he is who Jesus is speaking to in Revelation. To John, a name was much more than a word—it symbolized an entire identity. So when Jesus says He’ll be giving believers a new name in Heaven, He means a new identity. When you get to Heaven, all the stereotypes and judgments that the world attached to you will be thrown out. God is going to give you a whole new sense of identity by telling you who you are to Him, and the way that He defines you will be the definition that sticks.
[Jesus speaking to believers in the church in Philadelphia] “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the Temple of My God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the Name of My God and the Name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from My God; and I will also write on them My new name.” (Rev. 3:11-12)
The references to the Temple and Jerusalem make it obvious that Jesus is speaking to Jews. All this name writing business is about identity. To have the Name of Yahweh written on you was the same as God publicly saying, “This one’s with Me.” To have the name of the new Jerusalem written on you was like being made an official citizen of that place—to have visible proof that you belong there. Why do you call yourself a Christian? Because you want people to understand that you belong to Christ. You’re using a manmade title to publicly associate yourself with God. This is the kind of naming God is talking about in Revelation—He’s not talking about changing your name from Jack to George. He’s assuring believers that they are going to be warmly received by Him and that their place in Heaven will be secure.
So are you going to take your earthly name to Heaven with you? Of course not. The verbal language you use to communicate down here is a body thing. Your spirit does not communicate in a verbal language, it speaks in a wordless spiritual language. Spiritual languages can’t be spoken by physical tongues. All this groaning, moaning, grunting, and mumbling you see people doing in the church while they’re claiming to speak in tongues—well, most of it is baloney. A lot more of it is simply languages of earth that you’re not familiar with. Some of it is the body’s attempt to communicate soul groanings, but some things simply don’t translate. Can you speak in the language of ants? How about the language of fish? If you can’t even master the language of lower life forms, you can forget about trying to translate the language of your soul into some form that your physical tongue can utter. It’s impossible. Your soul uses a non-verbal language that is far more efficient and complex than the simple words your physical brain thinks in. So how is God going to refer to you in Heaven? There’s no point in asking, because you can’t comprehend it as long as you’re stuck in your little earthsuit. That’s why Jesus talks about names written on rocks—that’s a nice, simple, physical image that your physical brain can grasp. Is Heaven going to be fabulous? Yes, it is, but not because it’s like earth. It will be fabulous because it will be nothing like earth. Does this idea make you nervous? Don’t let it. God is good and He is an incredible Creator. You can trust His glorious plans for your future.
Honoring God with Our View of Heaven