Friday, October 12, 2012

Will New Jerusalem Literally Descend to the Earth?

J. Richard Middleton has written an article in which he posits the view that earth will be the only eternal home for mankind post-eschaton.

While I obviously agree with Middleton concerning the hope for everlasting or eternal life on earth, I could not disagree with him more when he argues that no Christian will find his/her everlasting dwelling place in heaven (Daniel 7:13-14, 27; 2 Corinthians 5:1-2).

First, I believe that much of his problem derives from weak exegesis in connection with the relevant texts. I am not a professional exegete but I have been reading the Scriptures for over twenty years with an intense desire to understand what they say. I find that Middleton arrives at sweeping conclusions based on a hasty analysis of the germane Biblical verses he discusses.

For instance, it is true that Revelation 21:2, 10 speaks of New Jerusalem "coming down out of heaven from God" (KATABAINOUSAN EK TOU OURANOU TOU QEOU) arrayed as a bride. However, the text does not explicitly say that the city lands on earth, even if that is a valid inference that one might derive from its language. Moreover, we must remember that John was beholding a vision of things that would occur in the Lord's day. Revelation 21:10 tells us that the apostle was taken to a mountain on which he saw New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. The curious thing about the city, however, is that one wonders how it could ever fit on earth in view of its dimensions (Revelation 21:15-17). It is obvious that the city is figurative (Revelation 21:9) and that the motif of descent (KATABASIS) should not be literally
construed (Compare Exodus 19:11). Other commentators have interpreted this passage in similar ways.

Bruce Malina notes that the "holy city" is "of astronomical proportions, since it measures 12,000 stadia in length, width, and height" (_The New Jerusalem in the Revelation of John_, 54).

After pointing out that the city of New Jerusalem is a cube, Malina cites Pliny's Natural History which tells us that a Greek stadion is equivalent to 125 Roman paces or 625 feet. The holy city, if measured in accordance with Pliny's comments, would thus extend through half of the USA and "reach the height of 260 Mount Everests (the top of Mount Everest stands 29,028 feet above sea level). Furthermore, the city was of transparent gold, 'gold like pure crystal'" (Ibid).

John does not seem to be saying that the city, even in a metaphorical sense, would land on earth. This interpretation seems to be a misreading of the text.

Albert Barnes says the following about Revelation 21:2:

"On the phrase 'new Jerusalem,' See Barnes 'Galatians 4:26'; See Barnes 'Hebrews 12:22.' Here it refers to the residence of the redeemed, the heavenly world, of which Jerusalem was the type and symbol. It is here represented as 'coming down from God out of heaven.' This, of course, does not mean that this great city was literally to descend upon the earth, and to occupy any one part of the renovated world; but it is a symbolical or figurative representation, designed to show that the abode of the righteous will be splendid and glorious. The idea of a city literally descending from heaven, and being set upon the earth with such proportions--three hundred and seventy miles high, (Revelation 21:16,) made of gold, and with single pearls for gates, and single gems for the foundations--is absurd. No man can suppose that this is literally true, and hence this must be regarded as a figurative or emblematic description. It is a representation of the heavenly state under the image of a beautiful city, of which Jerusalem was, in many respects, a natural and striking emblem."

Another problem that I have with Middleton is his use of Revelation 5:9-10 to demonstrate his point. EPI in that verse probably should be rendered "over" based on how it is employed in that particular context (See BDAG Lexicon and Richard A. Young's intermediate grammar).


aservantofJehovah said...

Genesis8:22NASB"While the earth remains,Seedtime and harvest,and cold and heat,and summer and winter,and day and night shall not cease."
Revelation21:23-25NASB"And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it,for the glory of God has illumined it,and its lamp is the lamb.And the nations will walk by its light,and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.In the daytime(for there will be no night there)its gates will never be closed;"

The Apologetic Front said...


What would you say to Rev. 20:9 whereby the camp/city is surrounded on earth? And then add to it 22:12 where Christ "comes" and brings his reward with him. Why would need to come anywhere if they are in heaven? It seems that these could be view collectively with 21:1-3 to better support the view that Christians are of a heavenly origin but live forever on the earth.

Edgar Foster said...

Dear Apologetic Front,

Jehovah's Witnesses understand the "camp" and "city" to be related symbolic entities, although there is a distinction between the two. The Revelation Climax book explains that a camp exists outside of a city. However, the city (which is clearly symbolic) will undoubtedly be represented by its holy representatives on earth. We believe that Satan will attack the earthly representatives of the holy city. This kind of language is not unprecedented.

The language of "coming" does not have to be interpreted as Christ descending to the earth. Exodus 19 speaks of YHWH descending although the descent was probably not literal. Similar apocalyptic discourse can be found in the OT prophets and John's Revelation (compare Revelation 3:20).

aservantofJehovah said...

Revelation12:1,2NIV"a great sign was seen in heaven:a woman clothed with the sun,with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth."
Revelation12:13NIV"When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth,he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child."
@Apologeticfront:if this woman is in heaven how could Satan pursue her after being hurled to the earth?