When Jesus talks about heaven, he speaks of the place from which he has come.
I believe with growing confidence that Jesus speaks. I think he talks to people. I think he talks to you and to me. I know it doesn’t happen like most of us talk to one another – with our voices in a way that is unmistakably us speaking, even if the content isn’t perfectly clear. Jesus doesn’t speak that way, so maybe I should say I believe Jesus communicates.
When we do speak to one another, we are using vocalized words to lead each other’s thoughts down a particular path. When I say, “Do you want a donut?” I am using these words to direct your attention to the availability of a donut and giving you an opportunity to decide whether you want to take personal advantage of this opportunity. (The correct answer to the question is “Yes!” by the way.) When I say, “You are loved,” I am using these words to reinforce what I believe to be true about you, and inviting you to agree with my assessment.
Jesus doesn’t use words in the same way we do – not anymore, not most of the time anyway – but he does communicate. He communicates through all sorts of media: Scripture, for starters. (What a strange thought that every time someone reads the words of Jesus aloud, he is actually communicating to all within earshot?!) Also, other people, whether a preacher, a friend, an enemy or a radio host. Anyway, the point to begin with is that Jesus speaks. But that is not the point I want to end with or the main thing I want to say.
The main thing I want to say is that when Jesus speaks, you should listen. This is the point John the Baptist makes to his concerned followers in John 3.22-36. Jesus’ popularity is rising and John’s followers alert him about this potential competition. John pours water on their flickering flame – this is how it should be, he says. The point of all my words was to prepare for his. Now we have one thing to do: Listen to him. Why? Because he alone is authorized to tell the truth about God perfectly. Why? Because when the rest of us describe the things of heaven, we talk about what we hope to one day see. When Jesus talks about heaven, he speaks of the place from which he has come.
Jesus has firsthand knowledge of everything he talks about. He is the ultimate expert. He knows more than you do about who God is, what life is for, and how to become who you were made to be. When he speaks, he does not do so from a desire to manipulate you to be part of his program, but from a settled certainty that this indeed is precisely what you need to hear. So when he speaks, there is only one sensible thing to do.