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As I’ve been teaching through Revelation this year at church, a thought has echoed in my heart: eternity is closer than we might think. By closer, I don’t mean sooner, as often we take it in our Calvary circles. I believe the Lord’s coming is imminent. I believe we need to live in expectancy, but that’s not the closeness I’ve been meditating on. I’ve been thinking more about nearness, less about time, and more about God’s presence. It’s similar to what Jesus said in Luke 17:20-21, “Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Eternity, or the heavenly realm, isn’t so far away in distance but is close. The Kingdom is in the midst of us. I see this in Revelation, but I also see it in how Abraham communicated with God. Let me explain.

To begin, in Revelation 1:10, John worships the Lord when Jesus speaks to him.

He didn’t have any distractions like we might today. He was banished, and there was little hope for meaningful human interaction. The vision he saw of Jesus is frightening, with the eyes of flaming fire and sword coming out of his mouth. It wasn’t quite the Jesus meek and mild we remember from the Gospels! But the words we have recorded lend more in the direction that when John heard the voice, he looked over his shoulder rather than up. Jesus was right there, and he didn’t even know it, at least not until he heard the voice. The revealed presence of the Lord gives us the sense that John was never alone in worship in the first place. It reminds me of those times in worship when we felt so close to Him, as if He were in the chair next to us.

N.T. Wright explains it like this: “‘Revelation’ – the idea, and this book – are based on the ancient Jewish belief that God’s sphere of being and operation (‘heaven’) and our sphere (‘earth’) are not after all separated by a great gulf. They meet and merge and meld into one another in all kinds of ways.”[1] As John prayed, he experienced the unfolding of the earthly sphere into the heavenly one, showing us eternity is close. It reminds me of praying with our elders about something that troubled us. We received an answer that night in a phone call, where the caller, who wasn’t at the meeting, used almost the same words we used in our prayers. It was as if he overheard our prayers; more precisely, God was closer than we realized as we prayed.

Then there’s the story of Abraham, in Genesis 18, shielding himself from the heat of the day in his tent.

The narrative begins in a way that sounds as normal as life could be in that part of the world without air conditioning, all except the fact that the Lord appeared to him in verse 1. He looked up and saw three men standing before him. Where did they come from? The text tells us that the Lord appears, but moving into what Abraham saw, we realize he was merely in the presence of three men.[2] It’s expected that three men walking in the day’s heat would catch anyone’s eye in those conditions. It’s dangerous. But Abraham doesn’t fear for their well-being; he bows down and says, “My Lord.”

He’s not shocked by the imprudence of foreigners but sees something else. It would appear he realizes that the heavenly sphere has just melded into the earthly one. As the chapter unfolds, his conversation with the Lord weaves in and out of the dialogue. Dallas Willard brings out the same idea: “The Old Testament experience of God is one of the direct presence of God’s person, knowledge and power to those who trust and serve him. Nothing — no human being or institution, no time, no space, no spiritual being, no event — stands between God and those that trust him.”[3]

Even in everyday events, Abraham experienced a taste of eternity. He understood he wasn’t just helping a few guys walking in the sun. In the same way, I think about those moments when talking with someone I just met, when the conversation suddenly becomes eternally significant. It’s a moment shared with the Lord when I’ve felt His close presence.

How does this work itself out in our daily lives?

There was only one John to write Revelation and only one Abraham, too. I believe it’s possible to cultivate a sense of the closeness of eternity in our lives, and it comes from a passage I was given to meditate on for the monthly CGN prayer meeting with Pastor Wayne Taylor—John 15:7-8. These two verses are taken from the beautiful passage of our daily and constant demeure in Him, the True Vine. The promise is remarkable. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

The key is abiding in Him and, practically, letting his words have such a place that they take up residence, remodel our lives, and sign the property deed. It’s a way of living in that open door to eternity. Better yet, it’s the Kingdom taking its place among us.

Yet some things can abide in us to the detriment of our fellowship with God. I’m thinking about what can reside in our hearts more than the words of Jesus and even eclipse our sense of eternity in the present. One typical example in my life is my to-do list and worries. I’m goal-oriented and can become overly focused when concentrating on an objective. Then I think of the words of Jesus and how they bring the beauty of eternity back in. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” in Matthew 6:33.

Another example? Simple frustration and anger can cloud my judgment, if not add negative judgment to an already sensitive situation. The Lord’s words bring me back as He told us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). One last instance? Ambition. How easy it is to let pride and ambition take me out of the heavenly perspective and right into the area of this world. And yet Jesus said, “What does it serve a man to gain the world and to lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Allowing the Lord’s words to bear fruit in our hearts is much better. It’s giving place to eternity in our lives that allows dialogue with our souls. The power of this type of prayer and meditation is truly transformative. If I forgive others and ask for the Spirit’s help, I seek to be a peacemaker. If I make my goal to care for my soul and help others to gain the riches of God, I know I’ll experience more of the infusion of the eternal into everyday existence.

The Father is glorified in this type of disciple, as Jesus said, because it displays the life of our Lord through the simplicity of prayer and living. Better yet, it’s living eternity in the present physical world. In that way, I believe eternity is closer than we might think.


Footnotes

[1] N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone (Louisville: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 2011), Kindle Edition, 3.
[2] There’s a lot to be said about these men. It’s interesting that Augustine entertained the idea that this is a possible example of the Trinity because the text flows from the Lord appearing into the physical presence of the three men.
Augustine of Hippo, On the Trinity: Book 2, Chapter 11 (Boston: Wyatt North Publishing, 2014), 35.
[3] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1998), 78.

Mike Dente is the senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Paris located in Paris, France. He received a Master of Theology from Faculté Jean Calvin in Aix-en-Provence, France.