I had a glorious weekend speaking at a church in the upper Midwest. The historic church where I spoke has a history steeped-in the Abolitionists and folks who escaped Europe, looking for religious freedom. They were pious and tough.
I was also blessed by a member of the congregation with the gift of the church’s written history. Veterans of the Revolution rest in the church yard, and the restored facility itself hearkens back to a long-ago day.
As with other places I travel to for speaking (let me know if you are interested in hosting a Bible prophecy seminar—I promise not to be a wild-eyed fanatic. In fact, my dream is to speak to Unitarians or Catholic audiences—not my traditional venues!), I saw opportunities to speak about predictive prophecy in the Bible.
In reading the history of this particular charming church, I read an account of the first pastor riding through the countryside, visiting potential attendees. One woman, standing in her yard, was met by the pastor, an imposing figure on his horse. He asked her if she knew where “the New Jerusalem” is. This mysterious place, of course, is mentioned in Scripture.
She replied that she did not and he announced to her that she could find it “up yonder,” pointing in the direction of…his church!
This is a lesson in early American history, and how the prophetic passages of the Bible have been interpreted through the years.
The New Jerusalem is mentioned in the book of Revelation, and it appears to be a future, literal city descending from the sky, from “heaven.” That is the so-called literal reading. Many others, of course, interpret it as a metaphor, or symbolically. The pastor, for example.
For him, references to the Jews and prophecy and promises in the Bible were somehow meant to mean the future Church. It is also an explanation for the thoroughly American view of Manifest Destiny. Even Ronald Reagan added to his historical shine by referring to America as “that city on a hill,” again, a strong biblical symbol. The pastor, too, believed that the biblical reference to this majestic, celestial city was really meant as a nod to a future, glorious church.
Appropriating references meant for another people is common in the Church. All religions have a certain narcissistic quality, even those who lean heavily on piety and apparent lack of…ego!
It is my contention that the pastor was wrong. The New Jerusalem, read in context in Scripture, refers to a future, literal city produced by God’s creative act alone.
A friend and mentor, the late Dr. Henry Morris, once made a great observation about the book of Revelation (and, by extension, the rest of the Bible) when he said, “It isn’t that Revelation is hard to understand. It’s hard to believe.”
Wow, what a dead-on observation. That’s it.
We have difficulty believing that a golden city from heaven could emerge from the sky one day—although we can wholly believe in UFOs and Bigfoot.
I look forward to seeing the New Jerusalem one day. Having lived in this wonderful country for many years, and visiting a marvelous, historical church last weekend…I know that I haven’t seen it yet.