That’s right. Following the return of Jesus to earth in glory, we humans will all live with him in a new Jerusalem which will come down to us from Heaven.
Right away we can see that this runs contrary to popular thinking about the age to come. One popular narrative has us living in Heaven and sitting on clouds playing harps with angels. This almost formless and lifeless idea comes from the Platonic tradition which influenced Church tradition from its earliest days beginning in Alexandria.
Another narrative has us returning to the Garden of Eden as if the whole sordid history of the City had never happened. It imagines us again living nobly, simply, and peaceably in nature with one another and all our happy fellow creatures. This story also entered Christian tradition from Greek and Roman sources.
Our biblical witnesses do not see any past time as a lost golden age which will be restored once Jesus has purified us. Our cities and history have been absurdly Olympian but not only so. Every faithful witness, whether person, word, act, or object, will form part of the new Jerusalem. Nothing meaningful will be lost.
At the same time, our biblical witnesses do not see us progressing, however fitfully, to a future golden age of peace and justice through our own hard work. We cannot build, brick by painstaking brick, the City of God. Only God can. A complete break will separate our old cities and age from the new ones to come from him alone. Nothing meaningless will be saved.
We might liken the new Jerusalem to our new selves in the age to come. Right now every one of us has a Christian personality and an Olympian one. Our Christian personality is ours solely by God’s grace as that grace inspires us to witness to it. Our Christian personality alone will survive the judgment of God into the new age but what we will be like is for now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).
In a comparable way, right now every city is Olympian but, in the midst of each, Christian witness—whether person, word, act, or object—takes place. This faithful witness takes place solely by God’s grace as that grace inspires it. This urban witness to Jesus will survive the judgment of God into the new age but what that new city will be like is also for now hidden from us.
(Today we have continued our reflections on Jacques Ellul’s The Meaning of the City [Eerdmans, pp. 158-63].)
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