The “Jerusalem above”
In Galatians 4:26, Paul declared that “the Jerusalem above” is “mother of us all.” But does this statement support the commonly-held belief among Christians that those in the body of Christ will actually be residing in New Jerusalem after it has descended out of heaven from God? I don’t think so. But before I explain why, I think it would be helpful to first demonstrate the fact that, in contrast with Israel’s relationship to the law during the present and future eon, God’s covenant people are going to be free from the law (as opposed to “under law”) during the final eon of Christ’s reign.
In Matthew 5:17-20 we read that Christ declared the following to his disciples:
“You should not infer that I came to demolish the law or the prophets. I came not to demolish, but to fulfill. For verily, I am saying to you, Till heaven and earth should be passing by, one iota or one serif may by no means be passing by from the law till all should be occurring. Whosoever, then, should be annulling one of the least of these precepts, and should be teaching men thus, the least in the kingdom of the heavens shall he be called. Yet whoever should be doing and teaching them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. For I am saying to you that, if ever your righteousness should not be superabounding more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, by no means may you be entering into the kingdom of the heavens.”
When Christ referred to a “righteousness” that is “super-abounding more than that of the scribes and the Pharisees,” the immediate context makes it clear that he was not referring to a righteousness that’s received through “faith apart from works” (and which is reckoned to sinners on the basis of Christ’s faith). Rather, it was a righteousness that essentially involves doing the precepts of the law (and thus being “just” and “blameless” in the sense that we’re told Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were as a result of their “going in all of the precepts and just statutes of the Lord”; see Luke 1:6). For as Christ made clear in Matt. 23:1-3, doing the precepts of the law was the very thing that the scribes and Pharisees weren’t doing (and was the reason why Christ commanded his disciples to do and keep what the scribes and Pharisees said when they taught from the law of Moses, but not to imitate their hypocritical acts).
Now, when Christ referred to “demolishing” the law and the prophets, he meant putting an end to them, and making them no longer applicable to (or authoritative for) Israel. But this, of course, is the very thing that Christ declared he did not come to do. Instead, he came to “fulfill” them. There seems to be quite a bit of confusion among Christians concerning what, exactly, the word translated “fulfill” (pleroo) means here. Many Christians interpret the word to mean “bring an end to.” However, such an interpretation is clearly illogical and absurd, as it would essentially have Christ declaring that he didn’t come to put an end to the law or the prophets, but to put an end to them!
The literal meaning of the word pleroo means to “make full,” and – like many words – can convey different ideas depending on the context in which it’s used. In this context, it’s clearly used in contrast with the words translated “demolish” (or “destroy”) and “annul,” and thus expresses a different idea than that conveyed through these words. The key to its meaning here is, I believe, found in the fact that it’s connected with both “the law” and “the prophets.” When a certain prophecy is “fulfilled,” that which was written or spoken is not “ended” or “terminated.” Rather, that which was prophesied actually occurs or is brought about. It is, in other words, carried out, or carried into effect. For a prophecy to be “fulfilled” (or “made full”), then, is for it to be carried out, or carried into effect.
The same meaning of pleroo is found in Matt. 3:15, where Christ declared that it was “becoming for us [himself and John] to fulfill all righteousness.” Christ didn’t mean, of course, that it was becoming for them to bring an end to all righteousness. Rather, he meant it was becoming for them to carry it out fully, or put it into effect. In the same way, Christ wasn’t talking about putting an end to the law or the prophets. He was talking about carrying out, or fully implementing, what was written in the law and the prophets. Christ then went on to declare, “For verily, I am saying to you, Till heaven and earth should be passing by, one iota or one serif may by no means be passing by from the law till all should be occurring.”
Why did Christ begin by saying, “Till heaven and earth should be passing by?” Well, in Deut. 30:15-19, heaven and earth are referred to by Moses as the two witnesses to the giving of the law to Israel:
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his judgments, that you may live and multiply; and Yahweh your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess…I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.”
This is why “heaven and earth” must “be passing by” before the precepts of the law that Israel is under obligation to keep can “be passing by.” Christ knew that, as long as the present heaven and earth remained, Israel would remain under the law. It is for this reason that Christ declared that anyone guilty of “annulling one of the least of these precepts” and “teaching men thus” would be called “the least in the kingdom of the heavens.” But what did Christ mean by “till all should be occurring?” Answer: Based on the immediate context, the “all” that Christ said “should be occurring” is likely a reference to everything written in the law and the prophets (which Christ declared he came to fulfill). In other words, the law given by God to Israel will not be passing away till everything written in the law and the prophets occurs. And since we know from the prophets that the law given to Israel will continue to be in effect during the eon to come (e.g., Isaiah 2:2-3; 66:22-23; Jer. 31:33; Ezekiel 36:27; 37:24; 44:15-17, 24; 45:21, 25; Micah 4:1-2; Zech. 14:16-18; etc.), it follows that the passing of the law cannot occur before the end of the eon to come.
However, after the passing away of heaven and earth, God’s covenant people will no longer be “under law.” And since the citizens of New Jerusalem will no longer be under an obligation to keep the law in order to live (and avoid being cursed), the “Jerusalem above” serves as a fitting contrast to the then-present Jerusalem of which the Judaizers were, figuratively, “children” (because of their being in slavery to the law), and which corresponded to mount Sinai/Hagar. It is for this reason that Paul introduced the “Jerusalem above” into his allegorical argument against the Judaizers (which begins in v. 21). And the reason Paul was using an allegorical argument from the law in the first place is because some of the saints in Galatia were being influenced by certain “Judaizers” to come under Israel’s covenant-based obligation to keep the law. But why would he refer to this future home of the saints of Israel during the final eon as “mother of us all?”
In Paul’s allegorical argument, Hagar (the “slave woman”) represents the old covenant and Mount Sinai, and corresponds to the “present Jerusalem,” who was “in slavery [to the law] with her children” (vv. 24-25). In contrast, Abraham’s wife, Sarah, corresponds to “the Jerusalem above,” who, we’re told, “is free.” Notice that, in verses 26 and 31, both the “Jerusalem above” and Sarah (the “free woman”) are spoken of as if they are the mother of the believers to whom Paul wrote. Obviously, Paul was using figurative, metaphorical language in both instances; neither Sarah nor the “Jerusalem above” are literally the mothers of those to whom Paul wrote. In the case of Sarah, believers are (figuratively) her “children” in the sense that we are like her son, Isaac. Isaac represents those who are “children of promise,” and, being free rather than slaves, are consequently “enjoyers of an allotment” (see Gal. 3:29; 4:7; cf. Rom. 8:17). Just as Sarah is figuratively described as our mother (and we her children) because we are like her son Isaac (we resemble him in some important sense), so the “Jerusalem above” is metaphorically said to be “mother of us all” because we are like her future citizens (we resemble them in some important sense).
Notice that Paul said the “children” of the earthly Jerusalem were “in slavery.” That is, the earthly Jerusalem that was then present was, figuratively speaking, the “mother” of those who were in slavery (i.e., her citizens). As I’ve argued in my study “God’s covenant people,” the believers among God’s covenant people in Paul’s day were just as much “under law” as were the people of Israel in Moses’ day. That is, they had a covenant-based obligation to keep its precepts in order to avoid condemnation/cursing. However, since the “Jerusalem above is free,” it follows that her “children” are also free. Just as we are said to be “children” of Sarah because of what we have in common with Isaac (we are like Isaac in that we’re “children of promise”), so New Jerusalem is metaphorically said to be our “mother” because of the distinguishing characteristic that we share with her future citizens. And what distinguishing characteristic is that? Answer: not being enslaved to the law of Moses. That is, we who are in the body of Christ are just as free from the law of Moses as the future citizens of New Jerusalem will be during the final eon of Christ’s reign.
Thus, when Paul referred to the “Jerusalem above” as “mother of us all,” he need not be understood as having been teaching the saints to whom he wrote about their eonian expectation. As has been argued above, abiding in New Jerusalem during the final eon of Christ’s reign is a blessing specifically for the faithful descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (as the circumcised patriarchs of Israel), and not for “the nations” (who, we’re told, will be living on the new earth outside the city and “walking by means of its light”). Rather than teaching the saints of Galatia about their eonian expectation in Galatians 4:26, Paul’s reference to New Jerusalem was simply meant to emphasize the fact that, in contrast with God’s covenant people during the present and future eon (but in accord with their destiny during the final eon), members of the body of Christ are free from the law. However, despite our having this in common with the future citizens of the “Jerusalem above,” we have good reason to believe that our expectation is distinct from the expectation of those who will be dwelling within New Jerusalem during the final eon of Christ’s reign.
In contrast with what we read concerning the expectation of those who will be living on the new earth and dwelling within New Jerusalem during the final eon of Christ’s reign, we read in Eph. 2:6-7 that those in the body of Christ will, during the eons to come, be seated together “among the celestials” (en tois epouraniois). As noted by Knoch, the term epouraniois (“celestials” or “heavenlies”) is in the dative case, and thus denotes locality. It’s also plural (as the translations “celestials” and “heavenlies” make clear). But what is the meaning of the expression in which the term epouraniois is used?
Most scholars believe Paul was referring to celestial regions, or realms (which is the idea expressed in the more common translation, “in the heavenly places”). Others, however, think the expression refers to celestial beings (or both celestial beings and celestial things). According to this view, Paul had in mind the same heavenly beings to which he was referring when he declared that Christ ascended ”up over all who are of the heavens” (Eph. 4:10; cf. Heb. 7:26, where we read that Christ came to be “higher than those of the heavens”). It’s also possible that Paul purposefully chose an expression that could refer to both celestial regions and celestial beings/things. In any case, the point that needs to be emphasized is that the location that Paul undoubtedly had in mind when he used the expression “en tois epouraniois” is the location that Paul most often referred to as “the heavens,” and which the author of the letter to the Hebrews referred to as both “the heavens” (Heb. 4:14; 7:26; 8:1-2) and “heaven itself” (Heb. 9:23-24).
Paul’s use of the expression “among the celestials” in Eph. 3:10 and 6:12 can be understood as further confirmation that the location to which the expression refers is the same location as that referred to by the related expression “in the heavens.” Compare these verses with Colossians 1:16:
“…that now may be made known to the sovereignties and the authorities among the celestials, through the ecclesia, the multifarious wisdom of God…”
“…for it is not ours to wrestle with blood and flesh, but with the sovereignties, with the authorities, with the world-mights of this darkness, with the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials.”
“…for in Him is all created, that in the heavens and that on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones, or lordships, or sovereignties, or authorities, all is created through Him and for Him…”
Since Paul wasn’t referring to “the sovereignties and the authorities” that are “on the earth” in Eph. 3:10 and 6:12, he must’ve been referring to those who are “in the heavens.” Thus, the location to which the expression “among the celestials” refers in Eph. 3:10 and 6:12 is “the heavens.”
Thus, regardless of whether the expression “among the celestials” is referring to celestial regions that comprise “the heavens” or to the beings that are “of the heavens,” we can be sure that Paul had in view the entire celestial realm in which Christ presently sits enthroned at God’s right hand (Eph. 1:20). Thus, by his use of the expression en tois epouraniois, Paul was referring to a realm that is not only inhabited by celestial beings now, but which will be inhabited by celestial beings after New Jerusalem has descended “out of heaven from God.” And it is in this realm – which is referred to elsewhere as “the heavens” and “heaven itself” – that we’ll be seated together with Christ and will be enjoying “every spiritual blessing” during the “oncoming eons” (Eph. 1:3; 2:7).
It is because the location in which we in the body of Christ are destined to enjoy our eonian allotment is celestial in location that we (who are presently “soilish” in nature) must come to wear “the image…of the Celestial,” and thereby become “celestials” (1 Cor. 15:48-49). Our mortal, “terrestrial” body must be transformed into a body that is fit for the realm where Christ, the Celestial One, resides and inherently belongs – i.e., the heavens (1 Cor. 15:47). In 2 Cor. 5:2, our glorified body is described as “our habitation which is out of heaven.” As in 1 Cor. 15:47 (where Christ is referred to as “the Lord out of heaven”), the term translated “out of” in this verse (ek) expresses the idea that, after we’ve come to wear Christ’s celestial image, the heavenly realm will be the place to which our glorified body will inherently belong. Hence, the future, vivified body that we in the body of Christ will possess after “the mortal may be swallowed up by life” is described by Paul as being “eonian, in the heavens.” (2 Cor. 5:1). In accord with this fact, we’re told by Paul that we have an “expectation reserved for [us] in the heavens” (Col. 1:5), and that “our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Savior also” (Phil. 3:20).
The word translated “realm” in Phil. 3:20 is politeuma (the elements of which translate as “MANY-effect”). It occurs only here in the Greek Scriptures. The more commonly-used word from which this term is derived is polis (“MANY”), and means “a place of many people” (i.e., a city). There is good reason to understand the term used by Paul in Phil. 3:20 to denote the realm (or ruled domain) in which we will be dwelling during the eons to come. Although the expression translated “the heavens” in Phil. 3:20 is plural, the term politeuma is in the singular. And since the expression translated “out of which” (ex hou) is also singular (the plural form – which Paul didn’t use – is ex hon), it means that it is from this realm (singular) that we are awaiting our Savior, Christ. It’s also worth noting that this realm is not merely said to be “in the heavens” but rather “inherent in the heavens.” The word translated “inherent” is huparch’ō (“UNDER-ORIGINate”), and expresses the idea that the realm in view permanently belongs to “the heavens.” And this realm that is “inherent in the heavens” (and from which we are awaiting a Savior) is the very realm to which we in the body of Christ will belong during “the oncoming eons,” when God will be “displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
In accord with what we read above, Paul wrote the following in Colossians 3:1-4:
If, then, you were roused together with Christ, be seeking that which is above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Be disposed to that which is above, not to that on the earth, for you died, and your life is hid together with Christ in God. Whenever Christ, our Life, should be manifested, then you also shall be manifested together with Him in glory.
It’s important to understand what, exactly, Paul was exhorting the saints to whom he wrote to be doing in this passage. Although some understand Paul’s words here as simply being an exhortation for believers to keep their focus on Christ, that’s not what Paul wrote here. As important and necessary as it is for us to keep our focus on Christ (and on what he did for us), the focus of this passage is actually on the location where Christ is presently seated. It is the heavenly/celestial realm itself (i.e., “where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God”) that we are to be “seeking,” and to which we are to be “disposed.” And there would be no good reason for Paul to exhort believers to be “seeking” the heavenly realm in which Christ is seated if this wasn’t the location in which we’ll be enjoying our eonian life after we’ve been “manifested together with [Christ] in glory.” Thus, when Paul previously wrote that members of the body of Christ have an “expectation reserved for [us] in the heavens” (Col. 1:5), we can conclude that this expectation reserved for us in the heavens will actually be enjoyed by us in the heavens (rather than simply being kept there and then given to us later while we’re on the earth).
There are some in the body of Christ today who, in spite of the scriptural evidence presented in this study, nevertheless believe that the earth – and not heaven – is going to be the eonian home of the saints to whom Paul wrote (i.e., those who belonged to what Paul referred to as “all the ecclesias of the nations” and who belong, collectively, to what Paul referred to as “the ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body”). In support of this view, certain verses in which New Jerusalem is referred to are sometimes appealed to. However, the fact that the saints who constitute the body of Christ are going to be “among the celestials” and “in the heavens” during “the oncoming eons” means that we’re going to be in the heavens and among the celestials both before and after New Jerusalem has “descended out of heaven from God.” Thus, one cannot appeal to verses such as Hebrews 12:22 or Galatians 4:26 in support of the view that New Jerusalem is going to be the eonian home of the body of Christ. Consider, for example, the following unsound argument:
1. Paul referred to the eonian expectation of those in the body of Christ as one that will involve being “among the celestials” and “in the heavens” (Eph. 1:3, 20; 2:6-7; 2 Cor. 5:1-2; Phil. 3:20).
2. New Jerusalem is referred to as “celestial Jerusalem” in Hebrews 12:22.
3. Therefore, Paul believed that those in the body of Christ will, along with the twelve apostles and all the saints of Israel, be residing in New Jerusalem during the final eon.
Although the two premises of this argument are true, the argument itself is a non-sequitur (for the conclusion does not follow from the premises). Again, the expressions Paul used in reference to the expectation of those in the body of Christ refers to the location in which they will be seated together with Christ and enjoying every spiritual blessing during the eons to come. In contrast, the only time that New Jerusalem can be considered celestial in its location (i.e., celestial in accord with the use of the dative case) is before it becomes the home of the saints among God’s covenant people, Israel. After it has become the home of the saints during the final eon (i.e., after it has descended “out of heaven from God”) it will cease to be “celestial” in a locational sense.
In contrast with the above unsound argument, here are some scripture-based arguments that are not only logically valid, but demonstrate the error of those who hold to the conclusion of the above argument:
1. The location where we in the body of Christ are going to be seated during the “oncoming eons” and enjoying eonian life in our vivified body is the same location where Christ is said to be located – i.e., “among the celestials” and “in the heavens” (Eph. 1:3, 20; 2:6-7; 2 Cor. 5:1-2; Phil. 3:20).
2. During the final eon, when the saints among “the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel” are going to be residing in New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12; 22:3), the location of New Jerusalem will not be “among the celestials” and “in the heavens” (Rev. 21:2, 10).
3. Residing in New Jerusalem during the final eon is not part of the expectation of the body of Christ.
1. The expectation of those who will be residing in New Jerusalem during the final eon of Christ's reign will be a continuation of the expectation that will involve “the citadel of the saints and the beloved city” being surrounded by “all the nations which are in the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 20:7-9), and which is referred to in greater detail in Ezekiel 36-39.
2. The body of Christ has no part in the expectation that will involve “the citadel of the saints and the beloved city” being surrounded by “all the nations which are in the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 20:7-9), and which is referred to in greater detail in Ezekiel 36-39.
3. The expectation of those who will be residing in New Jerusalem during the final eon of Christ's reign is not the expectation of the body of Christ.
1. The company of saints who will be residing within New Jerusalem will include those who will be on the earth when the indignation of God will be manifested against the inhabitants of the earth through the various judgments/calamities we find described in Revelation, and who will be saved at the end of the period of “great affliction” by “enduring to the consummation” (Matt. 24:13-14; cf. Rev. 14:12).
2. No member of the body of Christ is going to be on the earth during this time of indignation (see, for example, a summarized defense of this position in the following article: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2020/04/a-commentary-on-1-thessalonians-413-18_13.html).
3. The company of saints who will be residing within New Jerusalem during the final eon is distinct from the body of Christ.
1. Just as God will be making ethnic/covenantal distinctions between human beings during the coming “day of the Lord” (e.g., by considering Israel as his “people” and “allotment,” and distinguishing them from “the nations” [Joel 3:1-3], and showing special redemptive favor to a certain group of men who belong to “the tribes of the sons of Israel” [Rev. 7:3-8; 14:1-5]), so God will be making the same sort of ethnic/covenantal distinction between human beings on the new earth as well (Rev. 21:12, 24-26).
2. God has never made, and never will make, any such ethnic/covenantal distinction between members of the body of Christ; all who are in the body of Christ have been made “into one new humanity” (Eph. 2:13-18), wherein “there is no Greek or Jew, Circumcision and Uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, freeman, but all and in all is Christ” (Col. 3:11).
3. Those whose expectation will involve eonian life in New Jerusalem comprise a company of saints that is distinct from the body of Christ.
 Israel’s future freedom from being “under the law” doesn’t mean that Israel will, during the final eon of Christ’s reign, cease to “sustain” or “fulfill” the law. For, according to Paul in Romans 3:31 and 13:8-10, we who are in the body of Christ sustain and fulfill the law through faith (despite not being under the law). It will be the same for Israel on the new earth.
 Similarly, in 1 Cor. 12:15-16, the term ek expresses the idea of a bodily member being “of” (i.e., belonging to) the body. In Gal. 2:15, it expresses the idea of sinners being “of” the nations. In Phil. 4:22 it expresses the idea of certain saints being “of” Caesar’s house. For another example of the expression translated “out of heaven,” see Matt. 21:25-26.