What is Heaven? It's a Feast

Some of the most surprising and revealing passages in scripture are the glimpses we have of the resurrected Christ. In these snapshots, we have brief previews of what our bodily resurrection will look like. In two of these snapshots we see Jesus eating fish with his disciples.[i] What? The resurrected Jesus is eating? He sure is.

And with our resurrected bodies, we will eat too! One of the most powerful images in scripture of heaven is tucked away in Isaiah 25:6

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.

That, friends, is a party! I don’t know about you, but the idea that we get to eat for eternity is very attractive to me. Can you imagine all the new types of food we will taste? Exotic dishes we will experience?

I can smell the steak grilling and the bacon sizzling now.

But wait, will there be meat? In his book, Heaven, Randy Alcorn takes up the question of whether we will eat meat in heaven. He argues that there will be no meat at this feast:

Would God call ‘very good’ a realm in which animals suffered, died, and devoured one another? Surely the repeated redemptive promise that one day animals will live in peace with each other is at least to a degree a return to Edenic conditions, though it’s certainly more than that (Isaiah 11:6-9).

If, as I believe, animal death was a result of the Fall and the Curse, once the Curse has been lifted on the New Earth, animals will no longer die… This suggests people may become vegetarians on the New Earth, as they apparently were in Eden during the time before the Flood.[ii]

This question, of course, is a minor one, and yet is a disagreement I have with Alcorn’s theological approach in Heaven that I think is worth discussing. This disagreement ought not diminish how grateful I am for Alcorn and his wonderful book.

Throughout his book, Alcorn chooses Eden over Pentecost as a picture of what the new heavens and new earth will be.[iii] Scripture points to both (Eden and Pentecost) in picturing the new heavens and the new earth, but when there is a tension between the two, I believe Pentecost points us more faithfully to what the reality will be. For example, the diverse throngs of people from “every nation, tribe, people and language.”[iv] Peter’s vision from God to “Kill and eat” all types of animals[v], then, is a continued unfolding of the in-breaking Kingdom.

Jesus, after all, eats not just bread, but bread and fish in his resurrected body. Alcorn contends this was because it was because he was still on the unresurrected Earth under the Curse.[vi] But why would God’s accommodations to the Curse widen after Pentecost? The Kingdom begins to break in with Christ and breaks in further with the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Such a reading undoes the realities ushered in by the arrivals of the Son and the Spirit. We read God’s redemptive story forward, not backward.[vii] Heaven is better than Eden.

Alcorn’s trump card is that eating meat would mean the suffering and death of animals, which is in conflict with the promise that there will be “no more death… or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”[viii] Alcorn points out the text doesn’t say “human death or pain.” But again, this misunderstands the redemptive story. We as humans are God’s image bearers. No other animal holds that distinctive. We alone could reject God. We alone bore the curse of death because of that.[ix] The death of animals, then, is possible in a perfectly good world.[x]

In Isaiah 25 we are told that in the new kingdom we will not merely eat veggie trays and hummus, but the best of meats and finest of wines. I don’t believe Isaiah’s vision was deficient.

Is this a significant area of disagreement? Certainly not. And yet it’s a conversation that helps us shape the direction of our hope, a forward-facing hope in the forward-moving redemptive work of our God.

I can’t wait for that day with you, friends. Can I interest you in a bacon-wrapped scallop?

 

Photo credit: Mantra Media/Unsplash

 

[i] Luke 24:41-42; John 21:13

[ii] Randy Alcorn, Heaven, 306.

[iii] See chapter 38 where Alcorn says that “In reversing the Curse, God will reverse Babel” (378) and there will be one language in heaven. I would argue that Pentecost is a closer picture of heaven, where we don’t revert to Eden, but experience the fullness of God’s redemptive work in the new earth. In that place the fullness of ethno-cultural expressions (including language) will be redeemed, not erased.

[iv] In Revelation 7:9, John records seeing a people he immediately identifies as still maintaining their ethnic diversity: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and the Lamb.”

[v] Acts 10:13

[vi] Randy Alcorn, Heaven, 307.

[vii] Alcorn says in his defense that vegetarianism “will likely be a return to God’s original design” (307). It is my contention that while there are shadows of the new heavens and new earth in Eden, the new heavens and new earth will not be a mere return to Eden, but something even better!

[viii] Revelation 21:4

[ix] In Genesis 2:17, God warns that if they eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they will “certainly die.” The death Adam and Eve suffered was their expulsion from the Garden and spiritual separation from God.

[x] This article is a helpful exploration of this issue.