Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Patmos
After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
Many years ago, when I was a young minister fresh out of seminary, I was doing an internship in a large church in Charlotte, North Carolina. One of my duties was to work with the youth. Meetings were filled with lots of fun and games. I tried leading a discipleship group for the young people with more serious spiritual interest, but to be honest there was relatively little interest of that kind. Perhaps that is to be expected with young people.
Then one day a mother of a middle school student called me on the phone. Her name was Janice. She was not a member of the church, but she was a frequent visitor to our worship services. The church was so large that I had never met her before, at least not that I could recall. She asked if I would be willing to meet with her son, Robbie, and his friend, Tim. She wanted to know if I would lead them in a Bible study.
I was thrilled. This was just the sort of discipleship I was longing to do with the young people of the church, but none of them seemed truly interested. So I met with fourteen year old Robbie and Tim, and they were indeed keen. We began with a study of the Gospel of John. Every week these two boys were not only anxious to listen to what I had to say, but they had countless questions. Our discussions were wide ranging and fruitful. Furthermore, not only were these boys concerned to develop their own relationships with God through Christ, they were concerned for their friends. Tim, especially, tried everything he could think of to get his friends to come to our little Bible study.
Finally, one of Tim's friends, Stephen, came. Stephen too was quite keen to learn what it might mean to have a relationship with God. Before that first meeting with Stephen was over, I had the opportunity to lead him in a prayer to receive Christ into his life. The prayer went something like this...
Dear Jesus, I confess to you that I am a sinner. I believe that you died on the cross for my sins. I believe that you rose again from the dead. I receive you into my life. Help me, from this day forward, to live for you in the fellowship of your Church. Amen.
Our meeting that day was a meaningful time to say the least. Later I learned that when Tim left our study that day, he said to his friend Robbie, “I have never prayed that prayer that Will prayed with Stephen.” And that day, Tim knelt down in his bedroom at home and received Jesus into his life.
Our weekly Bible study continued. Tim continued to invite friends. Only one other came. His name was Alex. So what started with two boys had grown to five: Robbie, Tim, Stephen, Alex, and another boy from church named John. When we finished reading and discussing the Gospel of John, I asked the boys what they wanted to study next. One of them suggested the book of Revelation. The fascination of young people with this particular book, replete with all its strange imagery, was something I had encountered before. So we began a study of Revelation. As we had done with the Gospel of John, so we did with Revelation; we read and discussed about a chapter a week.
By now, it was summer and school was out. One Sunday I invited Tim and Robbie to join me at another church where I was invited to preach. Since we were studying Revelation, I preached on the open door for the Church at Philadelphia. I think the boys paid better attention that day than anyone else in the congregation.
Then I remember sitting on the lawn outside of church one sunny summer afternoon reading Revelation 4 with Robbie and Tim. I do not recall which of the other boys were present. But Tim had many questions about heaven. He loved the imagery of Revelation 4. And when we completed our study that day, Tim looked at me and said: “I can’t wait to get there.” I don’t think I have ever had anyone else say that to me.
We took a break from our study for a week or so while Tim was away visiting extended family in the western part of North Carolina. One day during that time-period, I received a phone call in my office at the church. It was Robbie’s mother. She was calling to let me know that Tim was in the hospital in Asheville. They did not yet know what was wrong with him; they simply knew that he was seriously ill. Robbie and his mother, Janice, were going to leave immediately and make the two-hour drive to Asheville and I said I would join them.
When we arrived at the hospital, Tim was unconscious. The doctors had determined that Tim had meningococcal meningitis. One of the nurses informed us of a conversation that she had with Tim when he first entered the hospital. He asked her if he was going to die. She said, “No, we have better hopes for you.” And Tim said simply, “No, it’s alright if I die because I know where I’m going.”
Tim was gone in a matter of days and his family and friends were left stunned. Several days after that very tearful funeral, our Bible study resumed, but it was different. This time, all of Tim’s friends, whom he had been inviting for months, showed up. And Tim’s entire family was there. That night I shared the good news of Christ with the group and many received Jesus as their Lord and Savior, praying a similar prayer to the one Tim had prayed months before. The Bible study continued throughout that summer with many of Tim’s friends in attendance. That fall my wife and I moved on to another ministry assignment across the country, and over the years, we have lost touch with the young people from that Bible study group.
But I have never forgotten Tim. I think of him especially every time I read the book of Revelation. I think of how ready and even eager he was to meet the Lord. And I wonder: are we ready for heaven?