In our first article about Zion we investigated the significance of the historical city of Jerusalem/Zion. As the Covenant City of God Jerusalem was the center of the world to the Jewish mind. And prophetically Zion plays a central role in God’s Scheme of Redemption. This article will examine four New Testament texts and how they deal with the issue of Zion.
"The Redeemer shall come out of Zion"
It is clear that for Paul the Messianic salvation promised to Israel was centered in "Zion" and inextricably linked with the parousia. The apostle quotes from Isaiah 59 about God’s promise to redeem Israel. That promise of God is sure; it is "irrevocable" says Paul.
The Lord had already begun to fulfill his messianic promises to Israel because the remnant had begun to enter into that for which Israel sought, Romans 11:5-7. A quick glance at our first article will remind the reader of the interrelationship between Zion and the salvation of the remnant. Zion and salvation go hand in hand! Zion and Israel’s salvation cannot be divorced.
All attempts to posit a futurist soteriology and eschatology based upon a Scheme of Redemption divorced from Israel’s promises are doomed to failure. Salvation is of the Jews, John 4:20! All attempts to deny the centrality of Israel in the Scheme of Redemption are truly Anti-Semitic in the Biblical sense. All attempts to place salvation and eschatology beyond the consummation of Israel’s age are anachronistic.
In Romans 9:33 the same apostle, discussing the salvation of the remnant cites Isaiah 28:16: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling block" to explain why so many of Israel had rejected the Messiah–it was foreknown by Jehovah. The very fact that he cites this prediction is proof positive that Paul believed the Messianic predictions about Zion were even then unfolding and finding fulfillment. Zion has been established!
The traditional amillennial construct finds no fault with this paradigm and yet fails to grasp the significance of what it means. The amillennialist holds that the "mountain of the Lord’s house" was established on Pentecost as predicted by Isaiah 2. It is interesting that the amillennialist will also, at least many of them, admit that the Messianic Banquet has been established. Songs are even sung "All things are ready, come to the feast"; yet if the Messianic Banquet has been set, if the feast is a reality then resurrection life has become a reality! The "feast of fat things" would be for those for whom death has been destroyed according to Isaiah 25:8! How is it possible to contend that Zion has been established and then deny that the attendant blessings are available?
Paul believed the consummative hour in which the Redeemer would "come out of Zion" was at hand. The tribulation "birth-pangs of Messiah" were to be short lived because of the "glory that is about to be revealed" (Romans 8:17-18, NRSV). The salvation that would be in Zion was "nearer now than when we first believed" (Romans 13:11), and the Day of its revelation was "at hand" (13:12). When discussing the salvation of the remnant it is undeniable that the work of salvation had already began. And the Lord had promised that once that work was initiated it would soon be consummated: "For he will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the Lord will make a short work on the earth." (Isaiah 10:23/Romans 9:28). God’s redemptive work in Zion was about to be perfected!
"The Jerusalem that is above, the Mother of us all"The Old Testament predictions of salvation in Zion very clearly intimate a contrast between the two mountains of God. The Old Law flowed from Sinai; the New Law would flow from Zion. In Jeremiah 3:14f we find a promise that the day was coming in which Israel would no longer go up to Jerusalem to worship. An incredible prediction at the time. The predictions of the destruction of "heaven and earth" [Isaiah 24; Joel 2-3; Isaiah 65-66] with attendant promises of a New Creation all speak of God ruling in Zion after that destruction. How could God rule in Zion if literal earth was to be destroyed?
Thus, the idea of the two opposing mountains of God was, if not explicit, then very implicit in the Old Testament prophetic corpus. Jesus certainly introduced the idea that Jerusalem, and thus literal Zion, was to become passe’ and would no longer be the focal point of worship for believers (John 4:20f).
In Galatians 4 Paul elucidates in the strongest of terms what Jesus only suggested. In his famous allegory Paul speaks of the two mountains of God, one, "Jerusalem that now is," Paul’s present day metropolis, "is in bondage with her children" (v. 25). What an incredible thing for this faithful Jewish Christian to say of the city that he once would have called "the joy of the whole earth" (Psalms 48:2). Now, because of the work of Christ he deems Old Jerusalem the mother of bondage!
The apostle now has a new Jerusalem! And a new Jerusalem means that Zion has come! This New Zion is "the mother of us all"; she is "above." Does Paul mean that Zion is strictly located geographically "up" that is to say in heaven? To suggest that Paul is speaking strictly of heaven means that Zion is not related to the church. But does Zion not span heaven and earth? Is Zion not a "multi-dimensional" reality? Is there not a "whole family, in heaven and in earth" (Ephesians 3:14), that is the same family, with the same Father and the same Savior? And is this same family not inclusive of the church of the Lord? Yes, Zion is indeed the church of the Lamb.
Notice that for Paul this New Jerusalem was a present reality. But she was "above." This designates not only her point of origin, she is a heavenly reality, but it also designates to a certain extent that she had not been fully revealed!
The New Zion could not be fully revealed until the Old Zion was fully removed. Jesus said "until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the law until it is all fulfilled" (Matthew 5:17-18). As we saw in the first article the passing of "heaven and earth" was a constituent element of the predictions of the coming of the New Zion (Isaiah 24; 28; 51; 65, etc.). But the "heaven and earth" that was to be destroyed in all of these passages was the Covenant World of Israel! And this is exactly what Paul was teaching in Galatians 4.
In his allegory, the apostle said of Ishmael’s persecution of Isaac, "as it was then even so it is now"; the physical seed persecuted the spiritual seed. That is, Old Covenant Israel was persecuting the New Covenant Israel, the church. With what result? Paul is emphatic "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free" (Galatians 4:30). Rebellious Old Covenant Israel was to be cast out so that New Covenant Israel could receive the inheritance–Zion! Sinai must give way for Zion!
Those who insist Israel was cast out at the Cross must deal candidly with this text and a host of others. Paul was writing several years post-Pentecost yet still anticipating the casting out of Israel. More importantly, the reason he gives for the casting out of Israel eliminates any possibility that this occurred at the Cross. The apostle says the children of the bondwoman, fleshly Israel, would be cast out for persecuting Christians–"as it was then, even so it is now"–as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so Old Israel was persecuting New Israel.
Paul’s "then" and "now" cannot be ignored. The "then" was the da
ys of Abraham; the "now" was Paul’s present. Attempts to make this "then" and "now" anything else is simply a desperate attempt to avoid falsification of traditionally held views. The fact that Paul posits the rejection of Israel for persecuting Christians, is prima facia demonstration that Israel was not cast out at the Cross or else Jews were persecuting Christians prior to the Cross!
Paul’s contrast between the two mountains of God, between the two cities, between the two Covenants and his explicitly stated temporal framework is a powerful demonstration of the "already but not yet" of the coming in of the Zion of God. Zion and Sinai were in conflict; Sinai must be cast out so that Zion and the inheritance could fully come.
REVELATION 7, 14
We shall examine the book of Revelation before looking at Hebrews 12. The book of Revelation absolutely exudes the spirit of anticipation of the imminent arrival of the New Creation of God. It is appalling, yet somewhat amusing to see the illogical, dare we say absurd, attempts to negate the imminent expectation of the Apocalypse.1
The fulfillment of the hopes of the Apocalypse are directly related to Zion, see chapters 7 and 14! The 144,000 are the elect whose salvation hopes reside in Jehovah who dwells in Zion. We suggest that these "first-fruits unto God" are directly related to those in Revelation 20, those who are of the "first resurrection." We also believe they are related to the "remnant" of Romans 11 of whom Paul said: "Israel has not obtained that for which she sought but the election has obtained it" (Romans 11:7). What was it Israel was seeking? Paul in another place said Israel’s hope could be summed up in one word "resurrection" (Acts 26:6f). Further, when speaking of Israel’s future–future from him, not us!–he said it would be "life from the dead" Romans 11:15! Here is a clear cut case of the "already-but-not-yet" of resurrection. And this is precisely what we find in Revelation 20.
Let us state again that Jerusalem and Zion cannot be divorced from one another in prophetic thought. Thus the coming of Zion would be the coming of the New Jerusalem foretold by Isaiah. That priestly prophet said the New Jerusalem would come only when Israel had filled the measure of her sin and was destroyed, Isaiah 65:6-17. Then God would dwell in the Holy Hill–Zion! Jehovah would dwell in the New Zion when the Old Zion was removed!
In the Apocalypse John is anticipating the destruction of "Babylon" the city whose cup of sin is full because "in her was found all the blood of those slain on the earth" Revelation 18:24. And it is when that city "where the Lord was crucified" Revelation 11:8, was destroyed that John said "I saw the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven" Revelation 21:2f. The Lord dwelling with his people, one of the central tenets of the prophecies of Zion, is the central thought expressed about the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:2f.
Some commentators freely admit that Isaiah 65 foretold the passing of the Old Covenant System. Jackson says the prediction of the New Heavens and New Earth "is merely descriptive of the new realm that will replace the Mosaic period. The ‘former things,’ i.e. the elements of the Mosaic system, will pass away [Isaiah 65:17]."2 What is so amazing is that although Revelation directly quotes from Isaiah 65:16 in its anticipation of the coming New Creation and specifically says the Apocalypse deals with the fulfillment of the Old Covenant prophecies, Jackson and others say Revelation is totally unrelated to what Isaiah predicted! Thus, while John quoted from Isaiah’s prediction of Zion and the New Creation, and while John said his prophecy was about the fulfillment of the Old Prophets, we are to take Jackson’s word that Isaiah foretold one thing and John another! No thank you!
The correlation of Revelation to Joel’s prophecy of Zion can hardly be overlooked by the observant student. Joel predicted the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord, Joel 2:28-32/ compare Revelation 6:12f; the gathering of the nations for judgment, Joel 3:1-2/ Revelation 20; the salvation of the remnant, Joel 2:31-32/ Revelation 7, 14; the destruction of heaven and earth, Joel 3:16/ Revelation 20:11; 21:1; the fountain open for the healing of sin, Joel 3:18-21/ Revelation 22–the River of Life!; God dwelling in Zion/Jerusalem, Joel 3:17/ Revelation 21:3f. Thus, just as Revelation draws directly from Isaiah 65-66 it reflects Joel’s last days prophecy as well.
The significant thing about this is that Joel’s prophecy cannot be extended beyond A.D. 70! In Matthew 24:29f Jesus cited Joel 2. It will be noticed that the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord is the consummation of Joel’s prophecy, Joel 2:31; 3:1-2. This would be when the nations would be judged, heaven and earth destroyed, Zion established as God’s dwelling place, etc. But in Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus quotes Joel’s prediction of that Awesome Day and said it would occur in his generation, 24:29-34, with the fall of Jerusalem! The Apocalypse foretold that identical Day of the Lord, 6:12f and Jesus said "Behold, I come quickly" and "these things must shortly come to pass."
A final point in regard to the time of fulfillment of Joel’s promise concerning Zion. Joel was specifically told that the fulfillment of his prophecy was for the "last days"; the last days was not Joel’s generation! But John the apostle emphatically was living in the last days, Acts 2:15f and in the Apocalypse says repeatedly that Joel’s prophecy of salvation blessings in Zion were about to be fully realized. Fulfillment had begun on Pentecost to be sure; but consummation was at hand! [This is why it is so ludicrous to say as some do that John’s statements of imminence simply meant the Apocalypse was about to begin to be fulfilled. Joel’s prophecy had begun to be fulfilled some time before the Apocalypse was given. It was the consummation of what had begun that John was anticipating with eagerness]. The blessings of Zion were about to become reality!
"You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the Living God"
In this wonderful epistle the author contrasts two mountains and two cities of God. Space will not allow us to develop all of the concepts contained in this chapter alone. But please take note of verses 22f "you have come to mount Zion and to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels." Many have suggested the writer had the book of Revelation before him as he wrote these words! Be that as it may, please note that the writer is calling his reader’s attention to the fact that they have come to Zion!
All of God’s promises would flow from Zion; resurrection life, Isaiah 25:8; the Messianic Banquet, Isaiah 25:6; God’s Tabernacle would be there, Ezekiel 37, Joel 3; the New Covenant would flow from there, Isaiah 51; God’s New People would dwell there, Isaiah 65; eternal life, Isaiah 65; there would be no tears there, Isaiah 65:19; peace, Isaiah 65:25; etc. etc. Imagine then, reading the words of Hebrews 12 "you have come to Mount Zion"!
Properly understood this text must be seen as a powerful statement of the objective imminence of the resurrection, the destruction of "heaven and earth," [it most assuredly is this–see verses 25-27!] and every other constituent element associated with the Messianic predictions of Zion! There is not the slightest shred of evidence that the resurrection, the destruction of heaven and earth, and all of the other "eschatological" elements associated with Zion were to be fulfilled thousands of years after Zion was established–in fact after Zion ends at the end of the Christian Age! When Zion was perfected the blessings would be in Zion! What a powerful statement then "you have come to Mount Zion"! The wri
ter was urging his readers not to go back to the Old Covenant and its city– "we have here no abiding city"– that was about to perish. They should press on to perfection in the New Zion the kingdom that was even then being delivered, Hebrews 12:28, as the Old Heaven and Earth was being shaken, verses 25-27.
It is not an exaggeration to say that in Zion were focused all of the Messianic Salvation hopes of Israel. Peace, eternal life, righteousness, resurrection, fellowship, all of these concepts and more were associated in Israel’s prophecies of the coming Zion. For the New Testament writers therefore to say they were now members of this heavenly Zion was nothing less than to say that they were living in the end of the age, compare 1 Corinthians 10:11; they were in the last days, Hebrews 1:1. They were anticipating the full "consummation of the age" Matthew 24:3 after the time of Tribulation, Daniel 12:1/ Matthew 24:21. They were now waiting for the Great and Awesome Day of the Lord that would consummate the Last Days and bring salvation to perfection, Isaiah 2-4.
Unless one is able to prove categorically that the Old Testament predicted the coming of two Zions, two New Jerusalems, two New Heavens and Earths, two New Tabernacles, two resurrections, two Great and Terrible Days of the Lord, etc., etc., then one must concede that while the Cross/Pentecost was the decisive initiation of Zion’s beginnings–the cornerstone was laid in Zion, Isaiah 28:16!–it was to be at the parousia of Jesus that Zion was perfected. Further, it will have to be conceded that the consummation was imminent in the first century–"you have come to Mount Zion!"
Several things become apparent from a study of Zion. First, the predicted Zion was to be a spiritual reality. Second, the anticipated Zion was to be the fulfillment of Israel’s Messianic promises–not the fulfillment of New Prophecies given by New Covenant prophets divorced from Israel. This has incredible implications for those who believe Israel and the Old Law was cut off at the Cross. Third, the New Zion would span heaven and earth and unite God and man, Ephesians 1:10; 3:14f. Fourth, in Zion is to be found eternal life–resurrection life. Fifth, in Zion the curse placed on man is removed. Sixth, the coming of the New Zion was inextricably linked with the passing of the Old Zion–Jerusalem of Old. Seventh, God has finished his work of salvation and once again dwells with His Creation.
Zion of Old was indeed beautiful. It almost staggers the imagination to think of what it must have been like to have looked upon Solomon’s Temple, upon Herod’s Temple, in full splendor. The Jewish Rabbis said, "Whoever has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor has never seen a lovely city. He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life."3 But the New Zion exceeds these physical edifices in glory beyond description. The heavenly Jerusalem–the church of the Living God–is indeed "Zion, the perfection of beauty."