For the past few days in class we have covered some pretty heavy material for high school aged students. We have spent time in Ezekiel chapters 37-39, Joel 1 & 2, Zechariah 12-14, D&C 29 & 45 and Matthew 24. Ezekiel covers some of the events leading up to the second coming of Jesus Christ, and to get a fuller picture it is good to spend some time in other scripture as the Doctrine and Covenants is an excellent key to unlock the Bible. Latter-day revelation is a great way to understand the Old Testament!
As we explored various signs of the times, I always find it valuable to accentuate the positive in scripture. Yes there are many chapters in the Standard Works that cover in detail the wars and other troubling signs preceding the second coming, but there are also wonderful prophesies that inspire hope and confidence for the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ. In the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
Yes, there will be wrenching polarization on this planet, but also the remarkable reunion with our colleagues in Christ from the City of Enoch. Yes, nation after nation will become a house divided, but more and more unifying Houses of the Lord will grace this planet. Yes, Armageddon lies ahead. But so does Adam-ondi-Ahman! (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, O Divine Redeemer!, Ensign, November 1981, p.10)
We finished our lesson in spending some time in Revelation 21, examining the wonder of the “New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven” (Revelation 21:2). We read of the time in the future when “God shall wipe away all tears” (Revelation 21:4). We discussed how salvation is not just for mankind but for all creation. All things are to be saved including the universe as a whole. The Lord mentions that the earth must be cleansed so that it can be a fitting habitation for celestial beings (D&C 88:18-20).John mentions that when the Lord comes that “there will be no more sea” (Revelation 21:1). The sea was oftentimes a symbol for chaos, and when the Lord comes and sanctifies the earth, the chaos will be conquered. We see this image many times throughout the New Testament where Jesus stills the chaotic storms at sea, and when he walks on the waters. In Enuma Elish the symbol of chaos is the goddess Tiamat who personifies the sea. The book of Genesis refers to the “deep” (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word is תְּהוֹם tehom, which is linguistically related to Tiamat. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read that “angels do not reside on a planet like this earth; but they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire…” (D&C 130:6-7). This picture agrees with New Testament conception where Jesus Christ conquers the chaos and brings the stilling of the storm. It is beautiful imagery.
Why This Matters
The coming of the heavenly city New Jerusalem, the ending of the chaos associated with the sea, the wiping away of our tears, all point our hearts and minds to the time when peace will cover the earth and mankind will find happiness. The city of New Jerusalem caught the attention of many of my students. One student asked a poignant question that caused others to wonder. She asked, “Why does any of this matter? So there is a city which comes down from heaven and Christ will reign on the earth. What does any of this have to do with me and my life in the here and now?”
What an excellent question. I believe this question is critical to understanding John’s vision in the end of his book. At the center of John’s new vision lies a city- a real city. John clearly makes this the heart of the vision. Heaven exists as a society of saved beings. Joseph Smith explained that the “same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2). The celestial kingdom is a community or system of communities presided over by a central city. Celestial beings, the church of the Firstborn, occupy these areas as families, for families make up communities. Thus the ideal and perfect community is the eternal family of God. (Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, p. 370 see also Richard Draper, Opening the Seven Seals, p. 229)
Family: The Heart of the Message
If heaven is a community made up of families, then this tells me where we need to focus my energy. High school aged seminary students should do all they can to strengthen the family relationships they have right now and prepare to one day have their own family. How each student applies this idea is up to them, but one thing is certain: these relationships matter to God, so they should matter to us.
In class today a student shared how she has applied this principle. She shared how a friend of hers had a death in the family, and when she attended the funeral, it was impressed upon her mind how much the person who passed away was loved by the family. She thought how precious time spent with family is, and if a member of her family were to pass away, that she would want her memories to be filled with happiness.
The other day when her younger sister wanted her to take her for a walk and spend time with her, instead of ignoring this request, she stopped what she was doing and took time with her. Her experience of reflecting on the importance of the family had an impact on how she treats her younger sister. May we remember the purpose of our mortal experience: to emulate our Savior Jesus Christ in all of our relationships. May we cultivate the types of family relationships that will bring about heaven’s greatest blessings.
The following quote by Orson Pratt illustrates to an extent what heaven will be like.
What Heaven is Like
A Saint, who is one in deed and in truth, does not look for an immaterial heaven but he expects a heaven with lands, houses, cities, vegetation, rivers, and animals; with thrones, temples, palaces, kings, princes, priests, and angels; with food, raiment, musical instruments, etc; all of which are material. Indeed the saints heaven is a redeemed, glorified celestial material creation, inhabited by glorified material beings, male and female, organized into families, embracing all the relationships of husbands and wives, parents and children, where sorrow, crying, pain, and death will be known no more. Or to speak still more definitely, this earth, when glorified, is the saints eternal heaven. On it they expect to live, with body parts, and holy passions: on it they expect to move and have their being; to eat, drink, converse, worship, sing, play on musical instruments, engage in joyful, innocent, social amusements, visit neighboring towns and neighboring worlds: indeed, matter and its qualities and properties are the only being or things with which they expect to associate. If they embrace the father, they expect to embrace a glorified, immortal, spiritual, material personage; if they embrace the Son of God, they expect to embrace a spiritual being of material flesh and bones, whose image is in the likeness of the Father; if they enjoy the society of the Holy Ghost, they expect to behold a glorious spiritual personage, a material body of spirit; if they associate with the spirits of men or angels, they expect to find them material. (Orson Pratt, Millennial Star, Vol. 28, p. 722, November 17, 1866)