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Building the heavenly city

April 12, 2012

Isaiah 40:9 says: “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!”

Why did the prophet say go up to a high mountain? J. A. Alexander’s commentary on this verse says:

Upon a high mountain get thee up, bringer of good news, Zion! Raise with strength thy voice, bringer of good news, Jerusalem! Raise (it), fear not, say to the towns of Judah, Lo your God! The reflective form, get thee up, though not a literal translation, is an idiomatic equivalent to the Hebrew phrase (ascend for thee or for thyself). Some suppose an allusion to the practice of addressing large assemblies from the summit or acclivity of hills. (See Judges 9:7. Deut. 27:12. Matt. 5:1.) But the essential idea is that of local elevation as extending the diffusion of the sound. Zion or Jerusalem herself is represented as the bearer of good tidings to the towns of Judah. This construction is recommended by the beautiful personification, which it introduces, of the Holy City as the seat of the true religion and the centre of the church. The office here ascribed to it is the same that is recognized in ch. 2:3: the law shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Not only in the restoration from captivity, or in the personal advent of the Saviour, but in every instance of the Lord’s return to his forsaken people, it is the duty of the church to communicate as well as to receive the joyful tidings.

Alexander connected the verse to the prophecy of Isaiah 2:3, where the city of Jerusalem, and the mountain of the Lord’s house, are to be established in the tops of the mountains, and exalted above the hills. [Isaiah 2:1-2] .

In the New Testament, the church is called the heavenly Jerusalem, and Jerusalem which is above. The high mountain in Isaiah 40:9 likely signifies a lofty, spiritual perspective, which contrasts with the literal view. Isaiah’s prophecy encourages the saints to view things from a high or spiritual perspective.

Ezekiel was set upon a very high mountain in Ezekiel 40:2, which is the setting of his vision extending over several chapters, in which he portrays the church under the figure of a temple. In reality there is no high mountain there.

The high mountain from where John described the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 signifies that the prophecy is about a spiritual concept. The holy city is the church, also called the bride of the Lamb. But some people have imagined that John saw a literal city. John said each gate was a single pearl, and in the literal view, these pearls must have been obtained from enormous oysters, in a celestial ocean.

A high mountain in prophecy means something other than a literal mountain; it refers to spiritual things such as promises, that are the inheritance of the saints. The kingdom of God is the highest mountain of all.

In 1 Corinthians 3:9-16, Paul used the metaphor of house building, to represent the spiritual activity of Christians. Our present human body is called a “tabernacle,” or a tent. In their journey through the wilderness,  after coming out of Egypt, the Israelites dwelt in tents, and they had no permanent homes, and no city, when they were en route to the promised land. In the present era, Christians may participate in developing their permanent, heavenly inheritance, which is also called a building. The foundation upon which all build is Christ. Paul warns us to take care about what materials we use to build with. Wood, hay, and stubble are mentioned as inferior materials, that will likely be destroyed in the fire. On the other hand, gold, silver, precious stones are durable materials.

Jesus said, those who do his teachings are like the wise man, who built his house upon a rock, while those who do not do them are like the foolish man, who built his house upon sand. The wise man’s house endured the storms and flood, but the foolish man’s house collapsed.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” [John 14:2-3] Many mansions, and many buildings make a city. It is the heavenly Jerusalem.

Paul contrasted the present earthly tabernacle of our human bodies with the spiritual house that is built by God. He said, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” [2 Corinthians 5:1] Christians have an interest in their portion in the heavenly city.