Heaven: “a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines”
Heaven as “a banquet”
There are numerous Biblical texts which liken heaven, in various ways, to a great banquet. But how is this properly used in general conversation, in apologetics, in evangelism, or in pastoral care?
Biblical Texts and their meanings
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.
– Isaiah 25:6
This passage is a longing look into the distant (and eschatological) future. Although the passage is highlighting the fact that all people will be affected by what God will finally do, it talks about a great feast. As with many eschatological notions, the allusions may primarily be metaphorical, but even if this is so, we are invited to enter into those metaphors with a palpable sense of reality.
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
– Luke 14:15
Probably recalling the Isaiah passage above, a Jewish man responds to Jesus’ teaching about “banquets” (whom to invite, and where to sit), which Jesus concluded by saying, “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” in the previous verse (Lk 14:14). The Jewish man is linking the temporal banquet, which they were all enjoying, and which Jesus was using as a platform for teaching, to the eschatological banquet of Isaiah 25:6.
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.
– Matthew 22:1
This is explicitly a ‘parable’, which means that it is a metaphorical story, the moral of which can be used to understand something else. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a literal banquet.
I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.
– Matthew 26:29, Parallel to Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18
Again, although Jesus seems to be speaking in literalistic terms here, “wine” is so loaded with religious symbolism that it is easy to imagine him using the literal wine he has just drunk as a tool to teach about a spiritual truth concerning his imminent death.
There was also a calendar of feasts in the Jewish life, all of which had theological meaning. In fact, it was at the feast of Passover that Jesus took the bread and wine and taught about his death and resurrection. It was also at the feast of Booths/Tabernacles that Jesus taught about the Holy Spirit, and Jesus’ involvement in the coming Spirit:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
– John 7:37-39
So feasts were used in a wide variety of ways to convey spiritual lessons about the kingdom of heaven.
As a promise?
I surprised myself on Tuesday, as part of my “In the Mall” ministry, by saying to someone, “Heaven is a great big feast, with lots and lots of food!”
Even as I said it, I knew the above-mentioned passages, and I knew the relative weakness, in a technical sense, of what I was saying. In each case that a banquet is used to describe heaven it is not primarily talking about the fact that there is lots of food. It always has some other main point, like the honour of the host, the responsibility on the invited to respond, the types of people who will be welcome, etc.
But I was talking to a man who has some reasonably acute mental health issues, and therefore has very limited capacity for understanding. I had asked him about his church and he had proceeded to describe the food they served there. When he had finished, I asked him if the people were nice. He again described the food…
At that point I could see that this man’s connection to comfort and blessing related to food. I felt quite at liberty to employ the Biblical notion of an eschatological feast in order to amplify this man’s sense of the blessing of the eternal kingdom. Indeed, the point I was making was that there would be no hunger in heaven (Revelation 7:16), and that is structured as a promise in the Biblical revelation.
As we discussed this, the man began excitedly preaching to me on a number of topics beginning with food, and moving to the wonder and miracle of the male/female natural order. He was clearly blessed by the conversation, and the promise of a great banquet in heaven was a powerful point of connection for him. The way to that man’s heart is certainly “through his stomach”.
The fact that we benefit now, from the promises of blessings in the future, is a remarkable feature of Christianity. Because God has shown himself to be faithful in keeping promises in the past, we can trust his promises about the future (Hebrews 10:23).
In this way we can experience the eschatological promised benefits now as we place our hope in Christ. This is why it can be written:
Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
– John 6:35
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