I wasn’t too sure about this idea of moving into a city. It didn’t seem much like the utopia I dreamed of.
I’m a country kid. I grew up on a farm, where we had room to roam. Baseball games and kick-the-can could be played in our yard. Gorgeous sunsets could be seen regularly from our dining room table. While I did enjoy my three-year foray into the city, I was quite pleased to return to rural life. I prefer the peace and quiet of the countryside.
In light of this preference, at one time I found the closing image of our Scriptures to be unsettling. Revelation 21 speaks of a city, the New Jerusalem. This image is used to describe the final reality for all whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. This complete, fully restored iteration of the kingdom of God will be akin to a city.
Why a city and not a return to the garden of our origins? I was troubled by this until I stumbled upon the following speculative interpretation.
Over our millennia of existence, humanity has been busy designing and developing, inventing and crafting. This is a reflection of our Creator God, in whose image we have been made. It is truly remarkable how culture has developed. We’ve gone from riding donkeys to flying jet aircraft. We’ve progressed from simple air flutes to magnificent saxophones. We’ve built astounding towers, prepared exquisite food and crafted mesmerizing art. I wish I had the opportunity to see the look on my great-great-grandmother’s face if I had the chance to tell her about Skype! These expressions of culture have created a beautiful tapestry throughout human history.
And so God does not wipe the cultural expressions of the world away to start fresh in the new heavens and new earth. Instead, it appears that he redeems and incorporates them into this final, complete experience of the kingdom. The image of a city is used to communicate this reality. Rather than returning to a garden, the culmination of human flourishing will be joined together in a thriving metropolis.
This city, the New Jerusalem, will put on display how the Spirit of God has poured himself out through his people over the millennia. It will be perfect. The dancing and music will be pure and beautiful. As swords will be beaten in to ploughshares, so the tools of our hands will never harm another. Perhaps our computers and phones will be manufactured with sustainable materials, fairly sourced from our sisters and brothers.
I like this idea. I find it to be invigorating and encouraging. And so I celebrate that God has journeyed with his people from a garden to a city. I consider it a great honour that he would choose to uphold and utilize the fullness of human creativity, intelligence and skill. What a display of God’s glory this will be! Even a country bumpkin like myself can appreciate this.
Ryan Jantzi pastors Kingsfield-Zurich Mennonite Church, Ont., where he’s fascinated with exploring the interplay between traditional church and new expressions of mission.