Not what I expected. As I turned to my reading in Matthew this morning . . . as I continued to read Jesus’ sermon on the mount . . . as I anticipated more “commands to obey” . . . as I got ready for more high standards demonstrating my need for the transforming work of the Spirit by God’s overflowing grace . . . what jumped out at me isn’t what I expected. It was the throne.
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
(Matthew 5:33-35 ESV)
Making a false oath or, to swear falsely, has never been acceptable in God’s economy. The Mosaic Law contained several prohibitions against invoking God as your witness that the lie you were telling was really the truth (Lev. 19:12; Num. 30:2, Deut. 23:21). Apparently the Jews tried to get around this by substituting “heaven,” “earth,” or “Jerusalem” as the basis for their oath. Still making false promises . . . just not using God’s name explicitly.
But Jesus, as He does again and again in His teaching on the mount, raises the standards and removes any “wiggle room.” Referring to Isaiah 66:1, Jesus reminds His listeners that to swear by earth, was to swear by God’s footstool. That to swear by Jerusalem, was to take an oath founded on the city of God, the place where His house was built. And that, to swear by heaven, was to make a pledge based on the throne of God.
Jesus connects the dots to reveal sin and call His followers to a higher standard, “Do not take an oath . . . let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (5:36-37). And in connecting these dots, I’m reminded of the high and holy habitation of my God.
Many thoughts can come to mind when we think of heaven. Our reward, the outcome of our perseverance here on earth. A reunion, the coming together, however that works, with those who have “gone before.” An eternal respite, where tears, pain, and sorrow are no more. But as true as these things are, perhaps the first thing that should come to mind is that heaven is the throne of God.
First and foremost, it is the place of His habitation. That God dwells there in all His holiness, majesty, and glory is, in fact, what makes heaven, heaven.
Images from Revelation 4 and 5 flow to mind. The first thing John sees when the Spirit transports him into heaven is the throne and Him who sat on it. In those two chapters, the throne is mentioned 15 or 16 times. The throne is the center piece of heaven . . . heaven exists to house the throne. The colors, the sounds, the array of elders and angels are all centered on the throne and “Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty.” And in the midst of the throne is the Lamb (Rev.5:6) having opened the way to the throne room by His blood. Beside the throne is our great High Priest (Heb. 8:1), ever making intercession for His people (Heb. 7:25).
Heaven is His throne. O’ what glorious anticipation . . . to one day be ushered into the throne room.