A 2018 movie, “I Can Only Imagine,” based on the song of the same name, answers: We can only imagine….what it will be like.
The movie tells an amazing testimony and showcases the grace of God’s redemption and transformation that only Jesus can give. The story encourages with grace and inspires with hope. (read a review of the movie here)
I Can Only Imagine — the Song
The opening words tell us that we “can only imagine what it will be like.” Imagining is good, but we must remember that the Bible’s inspiration must always guide our imaginations. While the Bible does not tell us much about Heaven, it does give significant insights that help us imagine what we will see and do when we stand in the presence of Jesus. The song asks:
- Will we dance for Jesus? (3rd line of the song’s refrain) Or in awe be still (line 4)?
- Will we stand? Or fall to our knees (lines 5 and 6)?
- Will we sing hallelujah? Or will we be able to sing at all (lines 7 and 8)?
Yes, we can imagine those things. But only by using the Bible can we reason and discern them.
Light and Color in the Throne Room
In the fourth chapter of Revelation, we glimpse the Throne Room of God. Seated on the throne is the Brilliance of Light and Color, as John described Him:
Rev 4:3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.
John described what he saw, and what he saw were the beautiful colors of God’s glory. John described it as “like a jasper and a sardius stone.”
The High Priest’s Breastplate?
It’s interesting to note that the sardius stone was the first stone in the breastplate of the Temple high priest (Exo 28:17). Each of the 12 stones in the breastplate represented a tribe, with the first representing Reuben, whose name means “behold a son.” Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob, and Jesus is the firstborn of the dead.
Jasper was the 12th and last stone in the high priest’s breastplate (Exo 28:20). It represented Benjamin, whose name means “son of my right hand.” Jesus, of course, is seated at the right hand of God. He is The Son of God’s Right Hand (Heb 10:12). He is the first, the sardius, and the last, the jasper. Jesus is our High Priest who represents us before God.
Symbolically, the stones in the breastplate represented the twelve tribes, and the weight of the breastplate represented the weight of the people’s sin upon the high priest’s breast. We know the sins of the whole world were laid upon Jesus, and He bore them on the cross. Interestingly, John mentions the stones in reverse order, jasper the 12th, then sardius the 1st. In Exodus, they are in chronological order with sardius being 1st and jasper being 12th. This might bring to mind Mat 19:30 “…many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
John also saw a “rainbow” around the throne. The Greek word translated “rainbow” is “iris,” and it can also mean “halo.” “Iris” is the English word for the part of our eye that allows light to reach our retina. How much light we see is determined by how much the iris allows to enter. In Heaven, this iris (halo or rainbow) radiates the most brilliant light, the Light of the World. And, in Heaven, we will see that Light fully, for that Light is Jesus.
John 8:12 [Jesus said], I am the light of the world: he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
The “rainbow” seen in Rev 4:3 should also remind us of God’s covenant with Noah (Gen 9:13, 14, 16) The rainbow belongs to God, not to any person or people group. God gave it as a sign of His love and mercy and as a token of the Noahic covenant between Himself and all flesh. The Noahic covenant is an everlasting covenant, and the rainbow reminds us that in the midst of judgment, God is all-loving, merciful, and gracious.
The rainbow is described appearing as an emerald. Emeralds are green in color, which denotes life. In this case, the vision of a rainbow should remind us of eternal life that emanates from the throne, from the One who sits on the throne. Jesus came to bring eternal life to all who would believe in Him (John 3:14-16). He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
John the Apostle, John the Prophet
When John was called up to Heaven (Rev 4:1), he was told to write what he saw. By doing so, the apostle John also served as a prophet of God.
- God spoke His truths to the prophets of ancient Israel, and they conveyed God’s truths to the people.
- Jesus revealed His glory to John and showed him the things to come, and John wrote what He saw to share with all people in all generations.
In the Book of Revelation, John prophecied of the things he had seen, the things which were at that time, and the things which would take place in the future (Rev 1:19). We can imagine what Heaven might look like from John’s description in chapter four. He has given us a most beautiful “picture” of the Throne Room of God and an even more precious hope of all that is to come.
An Old Testament Vision of Heaven
Ezekiel also had a vision of the heavenly realm. It was very similar to what John saw. In his vision of glory, Ezekiel also saw a rainbow:
Ezek 1:26-28 And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it… and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
Ezekiel tells us that “the likeness of the glory of the Lord” was “like the appearance of a rainbow.” This suggests it is not an actual rainbow, such as the one displayed by God in the heavens after the Noahic flood. or the ones we see when the sun shines brilliantly after the rain. The rainbow Ezekiel and John saw is an eternal rainbow that does not disappear. It is a rainbow of light that is almost indescribable in brilliance and intrinsically connected to the Person and the glory of God. This light represents and displays the fullness of His glory — His mercy, grace, love, patience, goodness, kindness, joy, and every attribute of His being. This should be of no surprise since we know our God is “gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and great in mercy.” (Psa 145:8)
John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Stand or Fall? Dance or Be Still? Speak or Sing?
As the song suggests, we can only imagine. But again, using the Word of God, we can also reason by “entering” into the Throne Room of God and “seeing” Heaven through John’s vision.
Worship in Heaven
Revelation 4 tells us that those who stand before the Throne fall down in worship.
Rev 4:10-11 The four and twenty elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “You art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are and were created.”
It’s believed that words in Heaven are melodic—a type of singing— that likely sounds more glorious than the most accomplished and acclaimed singers on this earth. It appears that our worship will be both spoken and sung.
So, let’s review. What are the answers to our questions: Stand or Fall? Dance or Be Still? Speak or Sing?
- Yes, we will stand. And, yes, we will fall.
- Yes, we will speak. And, yes, we will sing.
- Yes, we will stand in awe. And, yes, we will be still.
But Will We Dance?
What is dance? It is a rhythmic movement, a response to music that results in a series of movements that match the speed and rhythm of the music. Therefore, I suggest it is a response of the soul and the spirit, and we will dance in Heaven, and it will please the Lord.
Psa 149:3 Let them praise His name with the dance; Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp.
Psa 150:4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
It’s reasonable to believe that there will be dancing. There will be singing and speaking, standing in awe, and bowing in worship. But something will be missing.
What’s Missing in Heaven?
You might be quick to answer “sin.” And that is true. There will be no sin in Heaven. But there’s something else that will also be missing in Heaven….imagination.
Right now, we live in a time when Christ is with us by the power of the Holy Spirit. We love Him, having never seen Him with our eyes. By our knowledge of His word and our imagination of the hope to come, we know Him, and we rejoice with joy unspeakable and filled with His glory (1 Pet 1:8). But one day, when we go to be with Him, we will enter into His presence in the Throne Room. We will see Him in all His glory and join the multitude in praise and worship.
1 Cor 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
Rev 5:11-12 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
Rev 5:13-14 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.
In Heaven, We Will No Longer Imagine
Imagining is for now. It is for the unseen. When we see Jesus face-to-face…
- our joy will be speakable, and it will be singable.
- our awe will be overwhelming, and our worship will be overflowing.
- our spirits will be unbounded by earthly constraints and human sin will be no more.
- our souls will be unleashed to praise and worship God in the fullness of purity and perfection.
Oh, what a glorious day it will be when we walk by His side, and our eyes will see!
Right Here, Right Now
As already said, imagining is for now. So take a minute and let the song inspire you to imagine.
- This earthly body is slow and heavy in all its motions, listless and soon tired with action. But our heavenly bodies shall be as fire; as active and as nimble as our thoughts are. – John Wesley
- How sweet is rest after fatigue! How sweet will heaven be when our journey is ended. – George Whitefield
- Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal. -Thomas Moore
- “…rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” – Jesus (Luke 10:20)
About the song:
“I Can Only Imagine” was written by the lead vocalist of the Christian band Mercy Me. It was released in 1999 on their album, “The Worship Project.” In 2003 the song was released as a single (with the song “Word of God Speak” on the flip side), and it charted at #5 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary and #71 on the Hot 100. In 2002, the song earned Dove Awards for Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year and Song of the Year. Millard also won the Songwriter of the Year award.
“I Can Only Imagine” is the best-selling Christian single ever. It has sold 2.5 million copies and has been certified platinum three times by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). As of 2018, it is the only Christian song to achieve that honor.
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