The Bible is a stunning piece of literature, even if you don’t believe anything written in it! It was penned by at least 40 traditional authors (inestimably more contributed in some capacity) and written in three languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
In reality, we know many languages were used to pass down oral stories from the earliest times in the biblical narrative until they were later codified in the book and language we find them in today. However, what is more impressive yet, is the story it is telling.
It tells the epic story of God and his creation, of blessing, temptation, sin, exile, and salvation. For those of us reading this today, we have the advantage of knowing the entire story was leading to Jesus.
All in all, it is an epic book telling an even more epic story, which begs the question, how does it end?
But what I find interesting is that the Bible only begins in the garden. It doesn’t end in a garden; it ends in a city. This has huge implications for human flourishing.
The creation of New Jerusalem does not occur as an unexpected development, a belated after-thought in the mind of God. On the contrary, from the very beginning of creation, God intended that people, made in his image, should inhabit with him an earthly city.
When we look at the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21 & 22], we discover something strange. In the midst of the city is a crystal river, and on each side of the river is the Tree of Life, bearing fruit and leaves which heal the nations of all their wounds and the effects of the divine covenant curse.
This city is the Garden of Eden, remade. The City is the fulfillment of the purposes of the Eden of God. We began in a garden but will end in a city; God’s purpose for humanity is urban! Why? So the city is God’s invention and design, not just a sociological phenomenon or invention of humankind.
2.0 THE GARDEN OF EDEN
Garden of Eden, in the Old Testament Book of Genesis, biblical earthly paradise inhabited by the first created man and woman, Adam and Eve, prior to their expulsion for disobeying the commandments of God.
It is also called in Genesis the Garden of Yahweh, the God of Israel, and, in Ezekiel, the Garden of God. When creating them, God instilled within people an innate desire to be city-builders.
This inclination to live in community is not lost when Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden for disobeying God. The author of Genesis notes briefly that Cain began the construction of a city, which he names after his son Enoch (Genesis 4:17).
Later, in Genesis 11, the account of the building of Babel has an ominous feel, as the earth’s population joins together to create a city that will define their existence, standing in opposition to God.
This city, which is the antithesis of the earthly metropolis that God desires to create, is called Babel, the Hebrew name for Babylon.
Throughout Scripture, Babylon symbolizes humanity’s rejection of and antagonism towards God’s sovereignty.
The citizens of Babylon yearn for absolute autonomy so that they alone may determine their own future. In doing so, they arrogantly dismiss their true status as God-created and God-dependent beings.
In the book of Revelation, ‘Babylon’ exists today in contrast to the New Jerusalem that is yet to come (Revelation 17:1-18:24; Revelation 21:1-22:5).
Against the background of Babel, God initiates through the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob a process to reclaim the earth from the impact of human corruption, with the aim of creating a city where he will dwell with redeemed people from every nation, tribe and language.
In anticipation of this goal, and by way of foreshadowing it, God redeems unjustly enslaved Israelites from the grasp of a despotic, Egyptian tyrant so that they may dwell with him in his holy city.
After God miraculously rescues them from a ferocious assault by Egyptian charioteers, the Israelites anticipate their future with God, when they sing:
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established (Exodus 15:17).
This prediction is partially fulfilled after David captures Jerusalem from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:6-10), establishing the city as the capital of the territory promised by God to the patriarchs.
At Jerusalem, on Mount Zion, Solomon constructs a temple to house the ark of the covenant, the footstool of God’s heavenly throne. Here God comes to dwell, as his glory fills the temple (2 Kings 8:10-11), as it had previously filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35).
While God’s presence sets Jerusalem apart from every other city, making it an object of praise, as reflected in Psalm 48 and elsewhere, the ancient city merely foreshadows a more glorious city that is yet to come.
As the Old Testament prophets highlight, the citizens of ancient Jerusalem fail to maintain the holy character of the city.
3.0 THE CITY – NEW JERUSALEM
Jerusalem itself was a powerful symbol for the apostle John. It was the first and only city where God resided in a permanent holy house, the first city where kings worshiped the true Creator.
At the heart of the Israelites’ Promised Land, Jerusalem represented the ultimate Promised Land: all of restored creation.
Toward the end of the 8th century BC Isaiah anticipated not only the destruction of a corrupt Jerusalem by the Babylonians and its restoration under a Persian king, Cyrus, but he foresaw a time when God would establish a more glorious Jerusalem, free from every kind of evil (Isaiah 62:1-12).
To this end, prophet Isaiah predicted that God would create a new Jerusalem, an action that would be equivalent to creating ‘new heavens and a new earth’ (Isaiah 65:17-18).
The Old Testament hope of a radically transformed Jerusalem shapes expectations regarding the future found in the New Testament.
As the apostle Paul observes in Philippians 3:20: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” While Jesus’s followers are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, they must await his return before New Jerusalem will be established on a renewed earth, bringing to fulfillment God’s purpose in creating this world.
In apostle John’s vision of this great rebirth, he saw a new heaven and earth—a clear reference to the very beginning of the biblical narrative. He depicts the reunion of heaven and earth as the descent of a new Jerusalem.
Unlike the old Jerusalem that was corrupted and dishonoured by most of Israel’s kings, the new Jerusalem would be ruled by a divine king. This new city would be built by God, not by human hands.
Amazing! So, what did it look like? “Then he saw a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street.
On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations”. (Revelation 21)
The apostle John’s vision of a gigantic, golden city brings the book of Revelation to a dramatic conclusion.
The vision recorded in Revelation 21:1-22:5 forms the climax to a series of amazing visions that reveal through rich imagery God’s plans for humanity and the world.
The descent of this extraordinary city from heaven to earth marks the goal of God’s creative and redemptive activity.
4.0 SOME SIGNIFICANT CONNECTION BETWEEN GARDEN OF EDEN AND NEW JERUSALEM
John’s vision of the city abounds with imagery drawn from the rest of Scripture. Elements of the Garden of Eden reappear in Revelation 21-22, especially the tree of life (Revelation 22:2; Genesis 2:9; 3:22-24).
Importantly, in New Jerusalem the consequences of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden are fully reversed. People are no longer barred from eating of the tree’s life-renewing fruit. God and humans enjoy each other’s presence, living together in perfect harmony.
It’s an all-new Garden of Eden, the paradise of eternal life with God! This is an image of the Old Testament prophetic echoing all the way back to the first pages of Genesis.
He saw the tree of life there, accessible to all and eternally yielding fruit. It could do this because its roots had access to the eternal river of life, which can dispense nourishment to all the new creation because it flows from the presence of God himself.
However, in John’s account of a garden, humanity wasn’t represented by a couple. John describes seeing all the nations there, working to cultivate the garden as Adam and Eve did in Genesis.
For John, the fulfillment of God’s purpose through Jesus would result in the restoration of humans to their place as co-rulers of God’s world, ready to work with God to take creation into uncharted territory.
God isn’t preparing for us to go back to the Garden of Eden. He has something better for us. He is preparing a Garden of Eden remade, a Holy City, the New Jerusalem.
If our story starts in a garden and ends in a city, perhaps it means we are meant to move towards something greater, towards something more developed.
Maybe it means, with a righteous human touch, the world can reach a better and more productive state.