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Our Jerusalem Connection (part 4)

Post Title: The Jerusalem Above and Below

Paul is convinced that we are the generations upon whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor 10:11). Said another way, the church Jesus builds (Matt 16:18) is an end-time community of faith that by the inscrutable sovereign grace of God has been joined to his people Israel and is, in a type, a fulfillment of promises about Jerusalem.

What was the sign of the new covenant for Paul? It was not circumcision. He says you are Abraham's offspring not because you must be circumcised like Isaac, but rather because Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, has circumcised your hearts. The empowering presence of God's Spirit was the sign, evidence, and seal of the new covenant (Gal 3:1-6).

That is why Paul could so boldly say in 1 Cor 3:16, Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? And why Peter proclaims that you yourselves [Jew and Gentile believers] like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 2:5).

Dear friends, if anything should distinguish us as the people of God, it should be the indwelling presence of the holy God among his people. It distinguished then, and now, Jesus' kingdom movement from all other entities, organizations, and movements.

You are called to be priests unto the King, to offer sacrifices that are pleasing to him through Israel's Messiah. And to permit yourself to be built together, bonded by love, empowered by the Spirit, to rise up into a holy sanctuary. As it was in the tabernacle in Exodus, it is with us; when the sanctuary goes up, the glory comes down.

The Apostles share David's passion for the glory of God to fill the earth.

We are the temple to be indwelled by God's Spirit, the residence of his presence on earth. I do not concern myself about building the third temple in Jerusalem because I am too busy building up the present temple. I am not interested in your end-time scenario; I am interested in and have concern for your real-time scenario.

When Messiah returns, I want him to find me planting trees that bear fruit. I want to hear him say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant, you helped build up the house of the LORD."

The Jewish writers of the New Testament make it very clear that followers of Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, are his body. We must realize we are joined to the people of God and that in type, Jerusalem is also our mother (Gal 4:26). Where did Paul get this radical imagery? He is drawing on his Hebraic heritage.

The concept of "the Jerusalem which is above" was well known in the Jewish apocalyptic literature of his day. It is the idea of a heavenly Jerusalem, with a holy temple, waiting to be revealed at the end of the ages. Then, at the proper time, it will descend, and God's purposes will be fully realized.

Often in Jewish apocalyptic thought, the heavenly Jerusalem is contrasted with the earthly Jerusalem. For example, in 2 Baruch 4:2-6 and 4 Ezra 7:26, a contrast is made between the present corrupt earthly Jerusalem and the future perfect heavenly Jerusalem. That seems to be the sense in which Paul is using it in Galatians. (It is important to note there are also Jewish traditions in which there is unity, even an affinity between the two.)

In this context, Paul uses the above/below contrast in a polemical debate with Jewish Christian from Jerusalem who are on his case. But notice what he says in verse 27; this is fascinating.

Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;

break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!

For the children of the desolate one will be more

than those of the one who has a husband.

He quotes Isaiah, who is prophesying a day of great prosperity and restoration for Jerusalem (54:1). Paul takes the prophetic text and applies it to the church. His argument is, "Look, the amazing fruitfulness and vitality that you see is the Spirit of the living God moving in the church. It is a fulfillment, in part, of what Isaiah said to Jerusalem." And so Paul continues—using terminology they understand—The Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

We must hold the realities of a heavenly and earthly Jerusalem in a healthy, dynamic tension. From a Hebraic perspective, we must affirm both.

Point One: We must avoid the Hellenistic philosophical prejudice against the physical and the earthly as being fallen, in opposition to the abstract and the heavenly as being pure and spiritual.

Point Two: We must not give in to ecclesiastical supersessionism that says the church is the Jerusalem above, which has displaced and replaced the earthly Jerusalem.

Point Three: We must also guard against reverse displacement theology (for lack of a better term). Instead of calling it supersessionism, maybe we should call it resessionism.

There are those that tip the scale in the other direction. They say the church doesn't displace Israel, Israel displaces the church. They have gone from their Jewish roots back into Judaism. They say the Torah is our defining text, not the New Testament. Some even go as far as to renounce Jesus as both Messiah and Lord. My heart breaks to see this happen among us because it misses the mark and breaks company with the apostolic witness.

Our faith should not rotate around the axis of the Torah as valuable as it is. The axis of faith, biblically speaking, is Messiah Jesus, who is the Torah incarnate. Now, please listen to me carefully. As I do the entire Tanakh (Old Testament), I affirm the Torah as part of our glorious inheritance (2 Tim 3:16-17). But it is not the truth that will set you free.

If you lay hold of God's Word made flesh, if by his Spirit you obey his command to love one another, then you fulfill the Torah of Yeshua (Gal 6:2). For the whole law (torah) is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal 5:14, Lev 19:18).

Point Four: We must guard against supersessionism and resessionism by affirming the earthly, natural Jerusalem and the heavenly, supernatural Jerusalem. It takes wisdom to hold both in a biblically-balanced tension.

Our Jerusalem connection is a co-joining of both things—the heavenly and the earthly, the new covenant saints and the Israel of God.

We affirm that God has not forsaken Israel. In Rom 11:29, Paul makes it explicitly clear that God's gifts and calling are irrevocable; they are without repentance. Their disobedience does not cancel the future hope of God's restoration because that hope is based upon God's grace and not upon their merits.

We affirm that as Yeshua's church, we are a royal priesthood being built into a suitable habitation—by his Spirit—so that the God of Israel can come and dwell in our midst. Dear brothers and sisters, only as we build each other up will the glory come down. This is the passion of our Lord—the son of David, and the Son of the living God.

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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.

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