Heaven (13): The City of
I am concluding my reflections on the biblical teaching regarding heaven. Repeatedly I have argued that the Christian hope consists of the Resurrected Lord, Resurrected people in holy communion on God’s Resurrected Earth. That this theme runs like a river throughout Scripture is, in my view, simply plain. The Enlightenment, neo-platonic, glasses we have worn for quite some time has obscured this river but with the coming of the setting of the delusions of Modernism the topography of Scripture is being set in bold relief once again.
I have thought long and hard about the best way to present these last few posts on the new heavens and new earth. Should I do a post that lays out the manifold ways in which Genesis 1-3 is the substructure of John's text? That in itself is an eye opening experience. I may come back to that but I have chosen a different course for the moment.
A very helpful study related to my themes in this post is Gregory K. Beale’s book The Temple and the Church’s Mission (IVP 2004; Beale is also the author the New International Greek Testament Commentary on Revelation). An incredibly shortened version of this study can be read online in “Eden, The Temple, and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation” located at http://www.etsjets.org/jets/journal/48/48-1/48-1-pp005-031_JETS.pdf We have explored the themes of resurrection and the liberation of creation from bondage as the renewal of all things in accordance with the prophetic hope of Israel.
The purposes of salvation in the biblical narrative are many and varied. Several are found in Ephesians: we are saved to be holy (1.4), we are saved for the praise of his Glory (1.6). Another fundamental purpose of “redemption through his blood” (remember what redemption means) is God intends to bring “all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (1.10). Clearly echoing Colossians 1.15-20, Paul reminds us that redemption is cosmic in scope. God intends to undo the effects of the Fall.
Redemption is such a powerful word … and there is a locomotive of freight being pulled with that word. We need to embrace it in all its biblical fullness. It is an exciting and promising word and paints a grand vision for disciples of Christ. Yet in modern settings Christians have let pagan ideas color their view of what that redeemed life might look like. Thus in a conversation this past week I was confronted with the question “Will heaven be … boring!?” The cartoons of angels floating around in the clouds strumming their harps, in a white robe does indeed sound … boring! But Scripture never paints “heaven” in such terms. Scripture speaks of the Christian hope, thankfully, in concrete terms.
Paul and other biblical writers “invent” words from time to time. Not often but they do on occasion. But when it comes to heaven the writers do not do that. Rather than coming up with a new term like “abcd” what ever that might refer to, they speak of a “new earth.” I know what “earth” is! Something about “heaven” will be so much like “earth” it is called a “new earth.” John in his Revelation also uses concrete words: he uses the word “city.” I also know what a “city” is. In fact he calls it the “New Jerusalem.” These visions help us grasp the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer we wrongly taught we could not pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Reflections on “City”
For many western Christians the word “city” is a negative word. Because of the Agrarian Myth that has infused American culture, and Churches of Christ in particular, “rural” has been seen as almost a spiritual ideal. Cities are stereotyped as cesspools and the like. In the Ancient World cities were often seen as a haven however.
First, the city is a refuge for the weak and endangered. Immigrants tend to flock to cities because they can gather with kinsmen and feel “safe.” Cities also provide haven for all kinds of folks … odd and not so odd. In the Hebrew Bible cities were places of refuge. The Torah called for the establishment of six “cities of refuge.” To be outside the city was wilderness, frontier, danger, revenge style justice. In the city divine justice was, ideally, to prevail. Even those accused of killing found haven and safety within the walls of the city. Within the walls grace could be found. Civilization was in the city (interestingly in Latin the word civilization has its roots in the word for “city”).
These images of the gracious safety of the city find there way into Revelation 21. Verses 12-14 speak of high walls, twelve strong gates and solid foundations. This language intends to convey the idea that the New Jerusalem is a city that is protected and unshakeable. Isaiah in a picture of the future glory of
The city provided ancient people with safety and a measure of freedom from fear. Theologically, Yahweh had designated cities to be set aside as places of mercy and grace, that is of “refuge.” The New Jerusalem will be a place of safety, refuge and shalom.
Second, life in the New City of God, life is blessed with a sense of permanence. In the letters to the Seven Churches, Jesus corrects and exhorts. The church in
In our next installment we will look at two more facets of “city” and what the new earth, new Jerusalem, will be like.