Thursday, June 14, 2018
From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology Paperback – October 13, 2009 by T. Desmond Alexander ( Kregel Publications)
From Eden to the New Jerusalem, written by T. Desmond Alexander, is comprised of eight chapters in which Alexander sets forth to give an introduction to biblical theology by unpacking the “bookends” of Scripture, i.e. the opening chapters of Genesis and Revelation 21-22. As he examines the themes that flow throughout scripture from beginning to end, Alexander maintains two assumptions: that the biblical description of our future existence has more to do with our present existence than many realize and that the final chapters of Revelation offer a “window through which the main themes of the biblical meta-story may be studied” (7).
Alexander’s approach is to begin at the end with Revelation 21-22. Although this treatment is not exhaustive, the author introduces the reader to several key themes that help to understand the whole of the biblical meta-narrative. As Alexander unpacks these themes, he does so with the understanding that there is not a book of the Bible that can be interpreted in isolation from the rest. Because each book of Scripture develops further the meta-narrative, every text is seen as the context for every other text.
As Alexander looks into the brackets of the beginning chapters of Genesis and the final chapters of Revelation, he traces the presence of God throughout Scripture. In chapter 2, the largest chapter in the book, Alexander unpacks the theme of the temple as God’s dwelling place.
In the beginning, God establishes the earth as His dwelling place with the intention that that Garden of Eden would be His temple, with Adam and Eve his vice-regents. The imagery is similar to that of a temple. The language of the initial chapters of Genesis is Levitical, clearly temple language. The Garden is identified as a sanctuary, a special place where God dwells. In Eden, God established a blueprint for this temple-garden to be expanded over all the earth. This expectation was shattered when Adam and Eve disobeyed and were expelled from God’s presence. While humans continue to live on the earth, God’s presence is identified as being in heaven. The blueprint would not be completed until the final chapters of Revelation.
In the exodus account, another major development occurs. After delivering enslaved Israel from bondage in Egypt, God brings them to Mount Sinai and enters into a special covenant with his people. Alexander labels this a major advancement of what began in the beginning. God’s presence now resides with a particular nation exclusively, as indicated by the glory of God that filled the Tabernacle in the wilderness.
The thematic treatment of God’s presence continues in the book of Joshua. Soon after the conquest of Canaan, a tabernacle is built at Shiloh. This is understood as the precursor to Solomon’s temple – God’s dwelling place. God now resides not only with the nation of Israel exclusively, but also with the citizens of Jerusalem particularly.
The tabernacle in the wilderness and at Shiloh continued the motif that the earth should become God’s dwelling place. God prescribes the manufacture of a special tent, features of which would later be used in the Temple at Jerusalem. In the Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant is seen as a footstool that extends the heavenly throne to earth.
In Ezra and Nehemiah, a major reversal occurs when Israel is carried away to captivity in Babylon. This temporary captivity is overturned in a second exodus. Ezra and Nehemiah return to the land to build the Second Temple and rebuild the walls. Alexander notes here, “While the evidence is ambiguous, God was probably perceived as once more dwelling within the city of Jerusalem” (16-17).
The next major progression Alexander proposes in the understanding of God’s presence in the meta-narrative of Scripture is the coming of Jesus Christ. The Word becomes flesh and “tabernacles” among men. This is further development of the concept of God dwelling among humans on the earth. No longer does God dwell among men in temples and tabernacles. He dwells among men in the incarnate Christ. The incarnation unites the concepts of “body” and “temple.”
The author further develops this thought with the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes upon the church. The incarnation (body and temple) provided the theological foundation for understanding the church – the body of Christ – as the temple of God. Now the Holy Spirit fills this “temple” and God’s presence is linked to the church. Wherever the followers of Jesus meet, God dwells in them and among them. And as the church expands through mission and persecution, God’s dwelling place on earth expands. Alexander skillfully points out that this was God’s original blueprint for which He commissioned Adam. And where Adam failed, the Lord’s church succeeds, though not perfectly, through the preaching of the gospel.
The theme of God’s presence finds its perfect fulfillment in the consummation of all things in Revelation 21-22. Protology finds is completion in eschatology. Evil is removed fully from the earth. God makes all things new and dwells on the earth with His people. The New Jerusalem that John sees descending to the earth is similar in many ways to the temple-garden in Eden, with one notable difference. God’s intention for the Edenic temple was only unrealized potential. The New Jerusalem temple is actual – the certain fulfillment of the progression of Scripture. The bud that was in Genesis fully blooms in Revelation.
Alexander also unpacks the theme of God’s sovereignty as seen flowing in the meta-narrative of Scripture. The reader’s attention is drawn to references of the throne found in Revelation 21-22. By highlighting the throne John shows that the New Jerusalem confirms and establishes God’s absolute authority and kingship over everything that exists upon the earth.
If the Garden of Eden was a temple, Alexander argues, then Adam and Eve were given a priestly status that allowed them direct access to God. In addition, God appointed them deputies to govern the earth and expand the temple on His behalf. This view is backed up with two propositions: 1) they are directly instructed by God to exercise dominion over all the creatures, and 2) the concept of royalty underlies the expression “the image of God,” as seen in ancient near East sources. Kingship and the divine image go hand in hand (76-77). Adam and Eve were to populate the earth with God’s image-bearers. This was part of God’s blueprint.
A major conflict occurs almost immediately in Scripture. God’s kingly image-bearers side with the enemy. And by submitting to the serpent, Adam and Eve not only subject themselves to the serpent, but also surrender control of the earth to him. Against this background, the rest of the meta-story develops, giving special attention to how God’s sovereignty will be restored and extended throughout all the earth.
The motif of God’s sovereignty is traced through Scripture. Abraham is identified as a priest-king after his encounter with Melchizedek. In Exodus 19:3-6, Israel is declared a kingdom of priests with the intention that they are to fulfill the role allocated to Adam and Eve. In the New Testament, the theocracy of Israel transitions to the kingdom of God, which is inaugurated through the coming of Jesus. 1 Peter 2:9 applies the motif of priest-kings to those who acknowledge the reign of Christ.
“One day the present age will give way to another, when the earth will be rejuvenated and the sovereignty of God will finally become an undisputed reality in the New Jerusalem” (97).
In “Dealing with the Devil,” Alexander points out that while the devil has authority over this earth because of Adam and Eve’s sin (1 Jn. 5:18-19; Jn. 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; Matt. 4:8-10), his head had been crushed by the seed of the woman in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. His reign as the god of this world will end permanently in Revelation 21-22.
Also prominent in Revelation 21-22 is the theme of Christ as the Lamb. These references point back to the Passover, identifying Christ as our Passover Lamb. The Lamb of Revelation further develops God’s creation blueprint in that He accomplishes the redemption of creation. The Lamb of Revelation delivers people from every nation, echoing the promise made to Abraham in the initial chapters of Genesis. He sets them free to function as priest-kings and to expand God’s kingdom on the earth until the hope of reigning with Christ in the New Jerusalem is accomplished.
Analysis and Conclusion
By tracing several key themes from Creation through Redemption to Consummation, Alexander concludes that the New Jerusalem is “an extension of all that has been revealed in the rest of the Bible” (172). Far from being impractical, the truths Alexander unpacks help the reader to understand his or her own story. “Good theology has pastoral implications” (11). Nothing makes sense or has true meaning outside of the one story that stands out from all the rest.