After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven…
This passage derives intense interest from its position as well as from its terms; for it occurs at the close of one group of scenes and at the beginning of another. My text, then, forms the transition between the earthly and the heavenly pictures. There is something striking, surely, in this sudden contrast, for the former chapters contain the most emphatic references to this present life of conflict and of sadness. They speak to those whose dwelling is "where Satan's seat is"; they speak of their labour and their patience, their tribulation and their poverty. "Watch, repent, hold fast, overcome," are the solemn, stirring words urged repeatedly on those addressed. How well we can understand their position, for it is our own I Instructed by the glorified Son of Man, the apostle saw and wrote those things. But "after this," he says, "I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven," and through that open door he saw a sight how different. In place of the strife and tears and guilty stains which he saw before there was perfect splendour, sanctity, and bliss. He saw God's throne with its rainbow emblem of mercy, etc. How complete the contrast between that world above and this world below, described before. I propose now to regard this transition passage as suggesting some relations between these two separated worlds.
I. THE DIVISION BETWEEN EARTH AND HEAVEN.
1. The fact that heaven and earth are divided by so wide a gulf seems to me cue of the strangest facts in our experience, though long habit prevents the strangeness from striking us so much. We should have expected the very opposite. Comparatively few cross the Atlantic to America, yet, though we may never see it, we require no act of faith to realise its existence and condition. But the world of heaven is so far removed beyond the range of our knowledge that we have need of faith to be convinced even that it exists. The material universe has been called the garment of God, and so far it reveals Him; but it hides Him too. Little can be said in explanation of our exclusion from all direct knowledge of the unseen world and God; but that little springs out of the very things which make it strange. If heaven were not invisible, if God sometimes appeared, the chief trial of our pro. sent life would be removed, and we should have perfect assurance instead of wavering faith. Our life, in fact, would cease to be the discipline which it is at present. His wisdom appoints that we walk by faith, not by sight; no wonder, then, that all the arrangements of our life are in keeping with this purpose. Moreover, to this separation of earth from heaven we may observe several analogies, e.g., as a thoughtful writer has pointed out, the material universe might have been one great plain allowing of the freest intercourse between its countless inhabitants, instead of which it is broken up into myriads of globes, divided from each other by abysses of space impassable to those who inhabit them. We are separated from the dwellers in Jupiter or Sirius (if such there are) as completely as we are separated from the dwellers in heaven. And note how the same policy is carried out even on earth. Two-thirds of the surface of our globe is water; vast oceans separate us from the inhabitants of America or Japan almost as entirely as if they lived on another planet. Nay, the majority of even English people are and will remain perfect strangers to us. Moreover, the periods of time contribute to this end as well as the expanse of space, for how entirely we are cut off from intercourse with those who lived in the past, and we are still more completely divided from future generations, and we come into contact with only a few of the people who are now living. Now these facts show that it is God's will to break up His vast family into little groups, in order, perhaps, that each individual may, in comparative seclusion, be tried by the mystery of existence, instead of finding many of its problems solved by the combined experiences of all. All this is in keeping with the strange division between heaven and earth.
II. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN EARTH AND HEAVEN. One point of connection between the two, which at least helps to make heaven seem nearer to us, is that life in heaven, just as much as our life here, is proceeding now. We cannot see, indeed, that bright and holy world for which we yearn, as we should like to do, but there are those who do see it, who do enjoy it now. Their bliss is a present feeling arising from the presence of God now. Their endless life runs along a parallel course to our transient life. The present, which we call time, they call eternity. We cannot see them or hear of them, for there is a great division between earth and heaven, but there is a real connection, too, since those we love are present with the Lord, and are now receiving and returning the love of Christ, whom they "see as He is." But there is a deeper lying connection between the two than this. We mourn over God's absence from our earth, but what would earth be without Him? "In Him we live, and move, and have our being." And the angels from whom we are so divided, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation?" So far from being independent of and forgotten by God, it is true rather that all we see and all we are was made and is upheld by God's ever present power, and the ministrations of His angels. And if nature's laws are God's will, it may be said also that human history is the evolution of His providence. Individuals and nations, with all their wild and reckless freedom, do but accomplish what God's hand and God's counsel determined before to be done. We may trace this on the large scale when we note, in the Bible history, how God's purposes have been wrought out by men, though we often cannot trace it in the narrow region of our own observations. But if God is present in the great, we may be sure He is present in the little, of which the great is made up. In history and in nature, too, we see effects, an endless tangled chain of them, but causes we do not see and cannot find out. Causes, forces, are beyond our reach, for there is a great division between earth and heaven. Ours is a God who hides Himself. But as we must believe that without these indiscoverable forces the universe would cease to be, so we believe that all depends upon the unseen God. Earth and heaven, then, are divided by a gulf we cannot pass, but the connection between the two is nothing short of complete dependence.
III. THE DOOR IS SET OPEN BETWEEN EARTH AND HEAVEN. The division is maintained between the two in order that our discipline may not cease. But sometimes the door is opened that our faith may not fail. That has happened "at those sundry times and in divers manners when God spake unto the fathers by the prophets." And in later days there was a still more wonderful exception. The door was opened wider, and, attended by a train of angels singing "glory in the highest," the Son of God passed through, and dwelt among us, and men beheld His glory. And whenever a Christian pilgrim reaches his journey's end, then, too, it may be said that the door between earth and heaven is set open to let the wanderer pass into his home. How close, then, heaven is to earth in spite of the separation, for at any moment the transit may be made. In yet another sense we may say that to us on earth a door is opened in heaven, and that is when we worship. The prayers and praises to which we give utterance on earth pass that strange division between earth and heaven which we cannot cross, and mingle with the nobler worship of the temple above, making us one with friends already there.
(T. M. Herbert, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
WEB: After these things I looked and saw a door opened in heaven, and the first voice that I heard, like a trumpet speaking with me, was one saying, "Come up here, and I will show you the things which must happen after this."