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The New Jerusalem

19th October 2006

In his defence of the gospel of grace, as opposed to the old religion of Law, written to the churches in Galatia, Paul wrote this words:

Galatians 4:21-5:1
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.
But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labour pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son." Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

This is a very interesting passage, but this week I want to consider just a small part of it - the part that talks about the two different Jerusalems:

Galatians 4:21-5:1
Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.
But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

Paul is saying (amongst many other things) that those who follow the old religion of obedience to the Law are like slaves, and are spiritually citizens of the existing, Earthly Jerusalem - the capital city of the ancient country of Judea and of the modern state of Israel.

If you read the whole of his letter to the Galatians, you will see that He's also saying that the church can choose to live in that way - accepting a regime of slavish obedience to every letter of the Law as the way of salvation, or the church can choose to be free.

But in this short passage, Paul's saying that there's another Jerusalem.

So what is this other Jerusalem?

Paul says that:

  • It is "the Jerusalem that is above"
  • It is "free"
  • It is "our mother"

Remember that Paul is using the story Abraham, Sarah and Hagar figuratively for us. Hagar the slave woman represents the religion based on the Law, and Sarah represents the religion based on God's promise. So, just as Hagar is representatively the mother of all who follow the old way of Law, Sarah is representatively the mother of all those who follow the way of Grace. That is, of course, the church.

The church is the heavenly Jerusalem.

Paul describes the Jerusalem that is above as a present reality, not just a future hope. He says "the Jerusalem that is above is free". Note that he uses the word "is" - present tense.

Of course, most of the church are in heaven already. Every generation of Christians before our own are now with Christ. And we sometimes forget that most of our brothers and sisters are no longer on Earth, but are still part of the church - the heavenly Jerusalem. They are completely free - free from sin, free from pain and suffering. As one day we will be also.

But the heavenly Jerusalem is OUR mother, too. We are free - free from condemnation, and free from the need to slavishly obey the Law perfectly.

Romans 7:18-8:2
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

So, faith in the redeeming work of Christ brings us these benefits:

  • Forgiveness for our sins
  • Cleansing from our sins

Here's another scripture passages that teaches us about the two Jerusalems:

Hebrews 12:18-23
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear."
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven...

See the contrast? The old Jerusalem corresponds to Mount Sinai, as we've already seen:

Galatians 4:25
Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.

And Hebrews 12:18-21 describes Mount Sinai as:

...a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; ...a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear."

We can read about this in Exodus chapters 19 and 20.

But the new Jerusalem is:

Hebrews 12:18-23
...Mount Zion, ... the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God... thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, ...the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven...

The church of the firstborn! Us!

But now another question arises:

Since the Bible teaches us (here and elsewhere) that there are two Jerusalems, how do we know which Jerusalem any particular prophecy or other scripture is about?

Sometimes, we can tell from the context:

For example, in this passage, Paul is obviously talking about the old, Earthly Jerusalem:

Galatians 1:17-18, 2:1
nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. ... Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also.

But in the next three, Jesus is talking about the New, Heavenly Jerusalem:

Revelation3:12
Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.

Revelation 21:1-2
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Revelation 21:9-11
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

But what about:

Micah 4:1-4
In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more. Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig-tree, and no-one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.

How much of that is literal? How much about the first Jerusalem? How much about the second?

Is “the mountain of the LORD’s temple” which “will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills” the temple mount in Earthy Jerusalem? Or is it the church? If it’s the temple mount, will it be higher than Everest? And, if you want to take it all literally, do you believe “every man” will have a vine and a fig-tree?

I believe that Micah is prophesying about the church - the New jerusalem. From the days of Jesus on, the church is "chief among the mountains" - the most important movement - in the world. And people are streaming to it. And it is through the church that God teaches His ways to the nations. It is God's people - the church - who "beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks". We are truly the people of peace, and followers of the Prince of Peace. It's the church who know the peace and provision of God, figuatively described as "Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig-tree, and no-one will make them afraid".

The church is the New Israel, the New Jerusalem, the new Zion. We are the children of Abraham. And we are "as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore" (Genesis 22:17) - too numerous to count - as God promised Abraham all those years ago.

Praise be to God!