Thursday, October 30, 2014

Jerusalem as Eschatological City

Yahweh allowed Jerusalem, his city, to be destroyed by the king of Babylon in 588 BC. In 537 he commanded Cyrus, king of Persia, to restore the Jews in Babylon to Jerusalem. Yahweh wanted Jerusalem restored because it had not yet completed its purpose as his eschatological city.

Eschaton (es-ka-ton) is the Greek word for last days or end times. Eschatology is the study of these times. The main event of these times will be the return to Earth of Jesus Christ to start a qualitatively new age. This absolutely new age will include a new Heaven and a new Earth.

This new age will also include a new Jerusalem. As his eschatological city, Yahweh gave the old Jerusalem a special purpose. He enabled it to prefigure, anticipate, point toward that new Jerusalem. That new Jerusalem was nothing less than the glorious transformation of all cities into faithful witnesses to Yahweh. So the old Jerusalem pointed toward the judgment of all cities through its destruction and toward the redemption of all cities through its restoration and continuation.

As eschatological city, as city pointing toward the future destruction of everything Olympian and new creation of only that which is Christian (that which has Christ as its source, center, and goal), Jerusalem witnessed to Yahweh’s freedom and love. It revealed Yahweh’s decision to take humankind’s city, its greatest act of devotion to the Olympian gods, and transform it into something that witnessed instead to Jesus Christ.

Jerusalem best witnessed to Yahweh’s steadfast love for us, despite our absurd devotion to the gods, not by becoming glorious but simply by enduring.

Jerusalem’s most glorious days as an Olympian city started with its completed restoration under Ezra and Nehemiah in the late 400s BC. They reached their height under the rule of the Maccabees in the 100s BC. They ended with the city’s destruction by the Romans in AD 70.

During this golden age of Jerusalem, the city served as an impressive center of political power and of cultural and religious creativity. Influential Jewish communities flourished in eastern Olympia and especially in Alexandria. Judaism became more appealing to Olympian intellectual elites than it ever had or would. Jewish leaders in Jerusalem governed according to Jewish law and saw a variety of movements develop to explore how best to interpret that law.

But these ways of Olympian glory were not the way in which Jerusalem witnessed to its one true god. In fact, during these robust Olympian days, Yahweh was silent. Despite their power and prosperity, the Jews of that time had the wisdom to end the canon of scriptural books with Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi. Despite the Olympian glory of the Maccabees, the books about them didn’t make it into Jewish Scripture.

No, amidst its greatest days of Olympian glory, Judaism’s wisest people discerned that Jerusalem’s meaning lay elsewhere. They discerned that it lay simply in waiting for its coming redeemer. Waiting.

(Today we have continued our reflections on Jacques Ellul’s The Meaning of the City [Eerdmans, pp. 107-12].)

Copyright © 2014 by Steven Farsaci.
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