Hospitality in Heaven: Feasting in Paradise
Jesus Christ was invited to eat in the home of a prominent Pharisee. During the meal he challenged his host:
“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:12-24)
One wonders if there was something that specifically prompted the dinner guest to make the comment, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God"? Undoubtedly he was referring to the prophet Isaiah who foretold a day when God will spread a great banquet. As it is written:
In Jerusalem the Lord ... will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear well aged wine and choice meat. There [i.e. Jerusalem] he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears... The Lord has spoken! In that day the people will proclaim, “This is our God! We trusted in him, and he saved us! This is the Lord in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)
It is interesting that a couple of these themes are glimpsed in the Qur'an. Paradise is described as a “place of salvation: no evil shall touch them, nor shall they grieve.” (Surah 39:61) Also, in Paradise there is no death and people will eat sumptuous food. (Surah 44:55-57)
Confirmation in Revelation
Let's take a closer look at Isaiah's prophecy, “He will swallow up death forever.” What does it mean to swallow up death? And how would God do it? It is important to think about death, as Solomon said, “A wise person thinks a lot about death while a fool thinks only about having a good time.” (Ecclesiastes 7:4)
Isaiah's vision of God wiping away tears and death being removed rings true with most people. In fact, this vision is repeated at the end of the Bible. The apostle John says:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, “Look, God's home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. And God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
Notice how John confirms Isaiah's prophecy of death being removed and tears being wiped. He also says it will happen in Jerusalem, more particularly the “new Jerusalem.” But how does Isaiah's cryptic vision connect with John's vision revealed some 800 years later? Are there clues that show us how God will eliminate death?
Connecting the Dots
The first chapter of Revelation provides a clue. John sees a magnificent vision of Jesus Christ - so stunning that he fell down as though dead. Then John writes, ...
he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don't be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look – I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.”
What did Jesus mean by saying, “I hold the key”? The implication is clear: a dead person is locked, confined in a prison where he can't get out unless an authority who has the key unlocks the door.
It is interesting to see how this imagery fits the Psalmist's description of death in Psalm 49. The author tries coming to grips with the meaning of death. He composes a song which involves “solving a riddle.” He paints a gloomy picture where death appears to cast a dark shadow everywhere. The psalmist says emphatically that people “cannot redeem themselves from death by paying a ransom to God.” (v.7) Then in verse 15 the mood changes and he confidently declares, “But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave.” The writer's personal testimony breaks the darkness like a bright ray of hope.
Luke 7:11-14 provides another clue to help us connect the dots. Here we see Jesus performing a death defying miracle:
Soon afterward Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, and a large crowd followed him. A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow's only son, and a large crowd from the village was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don't cry!” he said. Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” Then the dead boy got up and began to talk! Then Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, “A mighty prophet has risen among us,” and, “God has visited his people today.” And the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding countryside.
We find yet another clue in John 5:27-29. Jesus declares that God gave “him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man. Don't be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God's Son and they will rise again.”
We read elsewhere how Christ raised Lazarus from the dead and declared, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
The apostle John gives us a threefold clue to understanding death's disappearance. On three occasions Jesus claimed that anyone who follows him will not die:
1) John 11:26, “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.”
2) John 8:51, “I tell you the truth, anyone who obeys my teaching will never die.”
3) John 5:24, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”
The clues we have looked at so far have focused mainly on tears and death. Now let us reexamine where death will be eliminated, i.e. “swallowed up.”
You recall that according to Isaiah 25 and Revelation 21, Jerusalem was the place where death would be destroyed and ultimately removed. Now we will see in Luke 18 that Jesus also predicted he would break death's grip in Jerusalem:
“Listen we're going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans and he will be mocked, treated shamefully and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again.” But they didn't understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them and they failed to grasp what he was talking about. (Luke 18:31-34)
Most Christians readers don't find it difficult to connect the dots. They can see that Christ's resurrection dramatically proves he overpowered death and conquered the grave! However, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples. They heard Jesus foretell his death and resurrection on several occasions but still “they still didn't understand any of this.”
Let us, therefore, be gracious when discussing such things, especially with those who have great difficulty accepting them, like the disciples of Jesus. Jewish people grow up with an expectation that Messiah will come as a mighty King and deliverer of their nation. The idea of him dying at the hands of evil people was foreign to them, even though it was foretold in Scripture (e.g., Isaiah 53). In a similar way, this idea is foreign to Muslims, indeed it is very objectionable. It seems inconceivable to Muslims that God would allow the prophet Isa to die in such a shameful and unjust manner.
It is not surprising, therefore, to see one of Jesus' own disciples strongly objecting to the idea that he would die. On one occasion Jesus predicted his death and Peter rebuked him! This conversation is recorded in Matthew 16:21-23:
From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed but on the third day be raised from the dead. But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”
Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God's.”
Our discussion has focused on how to correlate the vision of Isaiah and John. We have mainly looked at the three words: death (abolished), tears (wiped) and Jerusalem (the holy city). But there is one we shouldn't overlook: salvation (and the corresponding verb, save). This idea is crucial as it summarizes Isaiah's prophecy.
Isaiah says, “In that day the people will proclaim, 'This is our God! We trusted in him, and he saved us! This is the Lord in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings.'” (bold added) The main idea is clear: God is the one who saves from death!
This theme of salvation pervades Scripture and culminates in Revelation with a magnificent worship scene:
“I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. ... And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:10)
Think of the prophet Jonah. He praised God for saving him from death, “For my salvation comes from the LORD alone.” (Jonah 2:8,9) What did this rescue mean? And what about others who were saved/redeemed from death? (see Psalm 116, 107, 49). Certainly we know that God saved people from near-death situations. But is there, perhaps, a deeper meaning? Does God also save people from the grave, even Sheol?
Jonah and David spoke about being saved in this way. (see Jonah 2:2; Psalm 30:3; Psalm 22:10) How was this achieved?
“God saved us ... And now he has made all this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.” (2 Timothy 1:9-10)
Not only so, the Bible describes Messiah's resurrection as a momentous rescue from death, i.e. the grave. We read in Acts 2:24:
“God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.” (compare Hebrews 5:7)
What can Muslim readers say about God's salvation? In Islam the “place of salvation,” has no tears and death. Interestingly, their Paradise also has feasting. But sadly Muslims don't acknowledge God's saving power - superficially perhaps, but not in reality. What do I mean?
Through 14 centuries of Islamic history, Islamic scholars have never acknowledged the name Savior as one of the prominent attributes of God, i.e. one of the 99 names of Allah. Furthermore, the Old Testament says much about God saving people from sin through atonement sacrifices, guilt offerings etc. Yet Islam rejects Christ's death on the cross, together with the foundational principle behind these OT sacrifices – that something (or someone) else can bear the punishment due to another person.
Jesus Christ died in fulfilment of all that the prophets foretold. Isaiah 49:6 summarizes it well: “you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Also the name Christ received at his birth by the angel of God, i.e. Jesus, means salvation of God.
Point to Ponder: Was it coincidental that Jesus foretold he would rise from the dead in Jerusalem, the very city where Isaiah said death would be removed?
The following articles on related themes may interest you:
- Wasn't the God of the Bible strong enough to save Jesus from being killed?
- Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?
- God is Hospitable: Shouldn't We Be Hospitable Too?
- A Heart for Eternity
All Bible quotations are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.
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