jerusalem: the earthly and the heavenly

by Robert Brow   (web site -

There is an immense shift in the understanding of the New Testament from a Jewish concern for the earthly city of Jerusalem to the Christian vision of the heavenly city of God.

The temple of stones in Jerusalem was to be destroyed in AD 70 (Matthew 24:1-3, Luke 19:44) At its best the Jewish tabernacle and later the two successive temples were only sketches or shadows of the heavenly realities (Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 8:5, 13, 9:9-10, 12:22). Jewish temple and synagogue rituals had already been replaced by the new living temples of the Holy Spirit being established in each city of the surrounding nations (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). In no sense is our salvation dependent on a relationship to Jerusalem or a special concern for it.

Having said that, we must also note God's evident interest in nations as nations. National and ethnic identities and languages have important spiritual functions. As Paul explained in Athens, "God made all nations (Greek = ethnos) to inhabit the earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:26-27).

The importance of nations as nations is mentioned throughout the Psalms (e.g. 9:8, 17, 19, 20). Nations are continually judged and corrected for their spiritual function by God's wrath according to the principles explained by the prophets. Jesus sums up these principles in the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46.

In some cases peoples and nations are subjugated and cease to exist for ever. But the Jewish writers knew that God has a continual purpose for the Arab tribes (Ishmaelites, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, people of Sheba and Dedan, and other easterners of the desert) who were later united under the children of Ishmael (see Genesis 16:10, 17:20, 25:1-6, 36:1-43,Acts 2:11).

God also has preserved a strange continuing identity for the Jewish nation, which survived till recently without a homeland for nineteen centuries. And the quarrel between close cousins, the children of Ishmael and the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is still focused on Jerusalem after nearly three thousand years.

This means that on the one hand Jerusalem has no special importance for Christians of other nations. God respects and uses their love for London, Paris, Dublin, Rome, Vienna, Warsaw, or Moscow. And they each have their own nation's story, histories of good times and disasters, and men and women of true faith (defined as the faith of Abraham in Romans 4:16-22). But for Jews Jerusalem is at the core of their identity.

Paul makes this distinction clear when he speaks of his love for his own nation,and horror at the wrath of God upon them for rejecting the Messiah. He believes that they will one day be blessed in recognizing the Lord of their Old Testament (Romans 9:4-5, 11:11-12, 26).

Making this distinction also enables us to see that Israel was inevitably distinguished by being appointed to bring forth the Messiah. But their performance was hardly better or worse than that of other nations. It is Jewish national culture, religion, and civil law, glory and shame that is recorded for us in the Old Testament. On the basis of this unique Jewish paradigm a similar story could be written concerning every other nation.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus introduced new perspectives ("But I say unto you...") concerning the Jewish understanding of their laws and culture (Matthew 5:21-48). Having seen what Jesus said about the Jewish Old Testament, we can see how every item of our own nation's ideas, traditions, pride, and religion much be corrected in the light of the love of God. And the desire and hope of every nation can only find fulfillment in the eternal City of God.

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