Today we come to the conclusion of our fourteen week series in the book of Hebrews. I want to thank all of you who have walked with me through this amazing work and who have heard, perhaps for the first time, the message which this original audience would have heard. Today we close by examining the teleological endpoint which we all share in common with those who have understood this message.
I’ve placed this book within the larger meta-narrative of scripture and shown how both the microcosms and the macrocosms of life, all flow through the phases of a garden, a curse, and a city. It’s not enough to tell a religious audience to change how they live, or even to be open to a new way of seeing things. The religious mind must see such life alterations as purposeful to bring about a certain end and that is the thrust of this author’s words.
It’s important to distinguish between a city which is defined by its geography, economy, and culture from a city defined by its collective of people sharing life together under a common rule of law. In this sense, city is a people not a place. When scripture describes a city, even by a specific name, it is rarely as a modern travel blogger would view it. A city is the convergence of diversity and unity where all within it share in its prosperity, protection, and seek to serve it rather than plunder it for ones own benefit.
This author uses the teleological end by comparing it to that which exists within their cultural frame.
“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12: 18-24)
The original audience would immediately recognize that the author was deconstructing their religious heritage and reframing it. The way in which Israel (under Moses) related to God with tremendous fear, sacrifice, and strict rule keeping, has been replaced with “a new covenant” whereby all of the seen and unseen (spiritual) world converge around the “once for all” sacrifice of Jesus. God is now approachable instead of distant, his proximity doesn’t kill us, it transforms us, and his heaven has come to us through Christ, we no longer need to ascend to it.
To our modern audience, a similar deconstruction and reframing may be necessary. So many mainline religions all defer heaven to that “other” place reserved for after we die. The author was not an evangelical and therefore would not have taught this. This is true of all biblical authors. Consider this verse from Revelation 21.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
The coming city of God, or the New Jerusalem as the scripture calls it, or Heaven as it’s most often referred, is not distinct from this earth. Modern religion has become an earth evacuation strategy and nothing could be farther from the biblical text. The emerging city has “come down out of heaven” and is a community, not a geography. This collective, this gathering (ecclesia- or church) is the cherished, beloved and beautiful bride of God. This is not the institutionalized church in any of its permutations or denominations, the dwelling place of God with with us, (the temple is within us all), and it is this indwelling aspect which unites the entire globe.
“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” (Revelation 21:22-24)
The astrological symbolism refers to the lack of government and institutional power, neither church nor state will hold authority over people, but all people of all nations will bring their uniqueness into this inclusive city that is always open to all, and each will be governed by the dwelling of God within them.
For many of my modern religious audience, you may never have heard of this. This may not fit into your framework of Heaven and Hell, the great judgement, and all that Armageddon stuff. Consider this vital verse:
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
This is the junk drawer of all human sin, failings, weakness, wrongdoing. The Greek literally reads…“sorcerers, idolaters, and all the falsehood (false self), that part of them will be in the lake of fire.” The point of John in this amazing description of the emerging city is that all the horror and crud of false self, our ego and our failures and sins will be burnt off and destroyed in the fire. That part of us us will be expunged from us leaving only the true part, that which is written the book of life. Like slag burning off of the pure gold, the true authentic (teleio), and only lasting part will at last return to perfect union with God from where it came. The second death is the death of “all the pseudo” all that is false because it cannot last nor exist in perfect light of truth.
This helps us to understand the author’s point in verse 27-28:
“This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.“
The emerging city is a convergence, a community of people for whom the fires of God have consumed that which is false and they are on a journey to become citizens who move into incremental conformity to the authenticity and expression of God within them. This is a city inhabited by people for whom their greatest treasure and priority is to honor God as the author and finisher of a faith which cannot be shaken. Together, this community comprises the kingdom of God which is here today, right now and continues to unfold before our eyes. So long as we have the eyes to see it.
This in not a religion playing “Red Rover, Red Rover” with the city. This is a city emerging from within every soul and every city in existence. We don’t need a religion to get us there when we die, we need, as this author has shown us to free ourselves from our religions in order to see it. There is no temple in the emerging city. Whether we are atheists whose religion is science or whether we are the devout whose religion is some alternative form of institutional power, the promise of the gospel is a cry of liberation to all humanity who is trapped in our lesser cities of church and state, in ego and falsehood, in darkness and death.
The question for us today, just as it was for the Hebrews who first read this letter, is are we willing to lose our status, our religion, and our falsehood in order to win God and live by faith within this emerging city? Red pill or blue pill. Authenticity or Falsehood. Religion or Faith. It won’t be easy. It won’t happen overnight. But I believe it is well worth it.
May this amazing city begin to emerge within our hearts and may we never lose sight of how it got there.