Have you ever wished you could take a quick peek into heaven? We were created in the image of God, so it’s only natural for us to long for that which is eternal.
By contrast, almost everything in this world is passing away:
- The mighty oak raises its branches to the sky, only to become firewood.
- Men build skyscrapers, only to have them decay and fall to the ground.
- Ancient mountains suffer erosion, as the elements grind rocks into sand.
- Empires, nations, and cultures rise and fall, becoming mere footnotes in history books.
While living in this world, is there any way we can see a piece of heaven? Are there any objects on earth–any at all–which will last for all eternity? Indeed, there are!
There are some very special treasures on earth, which will outlive every tree, outlast every mountain, and even survive the great and mighty day of the Lord when “the elements will burn with a fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:10). These treasures will exist forever. Indeed, they will be in heaven itself.
These priceless treasures are the relics of the Saints.
Whenever you look at an impressive building, an awe-inspiring mountain, or even the earth itself, you are looking at something that will pass away. The world will burn, and very few things will escape. But even this inferno will not bring ruin to the relics of the Saints. At the Resurrection, God Himself will clothe these holy bones with flesh, and they will walk again.
Throughout history, God has given great honor to the bones of His Saints, prophetically looking forward to the day of Resurrection. For example:
- The bones of the prophet Elisha brought a man back from the dead. “So it was, as they were burying a man, that suddenly they spied a band of raiders; and they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.” (2 Kings 13:21)
- For 400 years, the Israelites carefully kept the bones of Joseph. He had given instructions that his bones must be carried out of Egypt, and brought into the Promised Land (Genesis 50:25; Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32). This reverence for his own relics was a demonstration of Joseph’s faith (Hebrews 11:22).
- Scripture mentions the presence of Christian martyrs “under the altar” in heaven (Revelation 6:9-11). As a parallel to this, it was a common practice in the early days of the Church to celebrate the Eucharist over the graves of martyrs, thus having their bones under the altar. A similar practice continues today, when the relics of saints are kept under the altars in Orthodox churches. While the souls of Saints are kept under the altar in heaven, their precious bones are kept under altars on earth, looking forward to the glorious day when both are united.
St. Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna, and a disciple of the apostle John. When he was martyred early in the second century, Christians recognized the value of his precious bones:
And so we afterwards took up his bones which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place; where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom ~ The Martyrdom of Polycarp – chapter 18
The bones of Saints are considered first-class relics, and have preeminence. Second-class relics are also very special, holy, and are treasured by faithful Christians. Second-class relics include objects worn, used, or touched by the Saints. For example:
- When the prophet Elijah was taken into heaven, his mantle was left behind. Elisha picked up this relic, and used it to perform a miracle, dividing the waters of the Jordan river so that he could walk across on dry land (2 Kings 2:9-14).
- God commanded the Israelites to place relics inside the Ark of the Covenant, which resided in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred room in the Temple. These relics included a golden jar of manna, a miraculous staff which had belonged to Aaron the high priest, and the stone tablets which Moses had brought down from Mount Sinai, bearing the Ten Commandments (Hebrews 9:3-4).
- A sick woman was instantly healed when she touched the hem of Christ’s garment (Matthew 9:20-22).
- St. Paul touched handkerchiefs and cloths, and those cloths were taken to the sick. When they touched these relics, “their diseases were cured and evil spirits departed from them” (Acts 19:11-12).
Relics point towards the Incarnation, where God takes on human flesh and sanctifies the material world. In the Incarnation, God shows His ability to use created matter in a miraculous way. And in the history of the Church, miraculous events have happened thousands of times with the bones and relics of Christian Saints. God Himself uses miracles to honor the relics of His Saints. It is an example of where heaven breaks through into our present world, renewing creation.
Indeed, holy relics provide some of our first glimpses into heaven itself. When this present world passes away and the sky is rolled up like a scroll, the bones of the Saints will remain. They will be resurrected, they will walk again, and they will be in heaven for all eternity.