In my ongoing effort to convince everyone I am heretical when it comes to Eschatology (the study of last things), I have chosen to begin this category with one of the most misunderstood areas of end times teachings (the supposed 'rapture' will have to wait for another post).
We've all heard it. Once the world is destroyed, God will remake all things (true) and bring down a literal city from heaven that is a nearly 1500 mile cube wherein we will live and rule the world (who is left in it again?) with Jesus. Inside this city are streets of gold and mansions aplenty, gates made of solid pearl, etc.
I am unconvinced.
The teaching depends on a certain reading of the book of Revelations that assumes literal meaning to a prophetic and apocalyptic text. This is dangerous and leads to a multiplicity of problems, most of which derail our attention from the truth it is actually putting forth, which I will get to in a moment. First, let's look at the text.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
For the purposes of this discussion's brief intention, I am not including the references to the New Jerusalem that Ezekiel makes. That warrants it's own post later on. I would however, like you to keep another passage in mind as well.
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
I find it fascinating that upon discussion of the New Jerusalem very few make mention of the passage in Hebrews 12, which makes direct reference to our active, previous and ongoing nature of having come to the heavenly Jerusalem. The picture is not unique to John in his writings, nor to the writer of the book of Hebrews, but it is present in a similar picture in Paul's writings.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
There is not a commentator I can find that does not recognize the reference in Ephesians 2 as describing the church, and yet, once dimensions and measurements are given in the same picture of Revelation 21 we assume a literal building and city. Look at that reference in Revelation 21:2 wherein the city is expressed as being dressed up as a bride for her husband. Further in verses 9 and 10 the reference to the bride is undeniably the New Jerusalem itself. It bears repeating:
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God
I cannot get around the clear references here to the city itself being the bride, nor can I get around the passage in Hebrews 12 that states we have already come to the New Jerusalem. And honestly, I have no reason to get around them. A plain reading of these texts shows that the New Jerusalem is a depiction of the Church, the bride of Christ, which is built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets. This is the reason for the descriptions of the twelve gates and twelve foundation stones being the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles respectively. A perfect metaphor that is understood in Ephesians 2 and 1 Peter 2, but is somehow lost when we read Revelation 21 and Hebrews 12.
The inconsistency with which the literal understanding of this city is understood leads us to a bizarre interpretation of the future state, confusion on why there are references to the existence of a temple and not a temple at the same time, and a false earth-based hope, rather than the true and real heavenly hope to which we already belong.
In the end, WE are the New Jerusalem, WE are the bride adorned for her Husband, WE are built on the foundation of the apostles, WE are entering due to the message of the prophets of the twelves tribes, WE are the temple in which God resides, WE are a holy temple wherein acceptable sacrifices are to be made, WE are the priesthood also who lives in that temple, WE are worth even more than precious stones and rubies (see Proverbs 31:10), WE proclaim the excellencies of the One who has called us from darkness into His marvelous light, WE are the city, WE are the bride prepared for the Lamb, WE are bought by His blood, WE are filled with His righteousness, WE are living stones in the city that God is building, mortared in place by His grace so that none will be lost. WE wait for the day that the building is complete and we are all presented blameless before the presence of His glory with eternal joy.
Now, isn't that better than a fancy house?
This is merely an introduction to this topic, I will be dealing with this more as I post in the category of Eschatology. Stay tuned!
Within the sphere of Christianity, there is no shortage of teachers and books written that intend to guilt people into a more extreme way of living in order to be closer to God.
This is not a new teaching. It has been around in pagan religion since the dawn of recorded history. There is no merit in teaching that if we give up money, possessions, or comfort we will finally be freed to be able to please God.
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
It would help to have a definition of Asceticism before going forward. The word translated "asceticism" in the ESV is from the root concept of humility. But it carries, in this context, the idea of delighting in that humility, i.e. being proud of how humble they are:
"I give up this for Jesus"
"I dress this way for God"
"I gave up all my money for God"
"I got those spoiling possessions away from me, and now I am free to serve God better"
"I don't have ______, therefore I am more pleasing to God"
"I… I… I…"
Paul's dealing with this issue in Colosse is expressing to them directly to not give up the freedom that Christ has given them for the bondage that foolish people keep insisting on. An old struggle, to be sure, and one that I have fought against in my own heart for years. "It looks so right!" We think. "Look what that person has given up for Jesus! I have a hard time even putting mind-engaging Bible study into each day."
Paul's answer to sin is not more rules and more structure, it is in yielding to the Spirit's work of sanctification (a topic for another post) as He grows us up.
During His incarnation, Jesus taught the same thing in the parable of the soils.
And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
Notice the patience with which fruit comes. There is always a temptation to focus on the fruit here, but that final word in Christ's explanation is of utmost importance. If we settle back into believing that we may jump start the work of the Spirit with rules and structure we risk throwing ourselves back into the hopelessness from which we were saved.
But there is such a push in the church for extremism. This idea that if you are not totally "sold out for God" then read this book and by tonight you will be. Nonsense! And I find it interesting that the book that is being handed out is not the Bible.
Mature Christlikeness does not come from emotions, decisions, rules, effort or the reading of books. It comes as a result of a life of growth in patience. It is the difference between a fire and a firework. A tree and a blade of grass. A marathon and a sprint . A tortoise and a hare.
In the end, this is a problem with godly contentment (a post for another day), and not a problem with a need for more rules and asceticism. God will grow us up, yield to Him and His work and watch Him do it. Loving how humble you can be will only get in the way.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.