I recently read T.D. Alexander’s “From Eden to New Jerusalem
.” It was a wonderful introductory book on Biblical Theology. Every Christian would benefit from this book and its content.
Alexander makes no difficult task of discovering his thesis in this book. He states at the outset that he seeks to answer two of the biggest questions of all time, namely “Why does the earth exist?” and “What is the purpose of human life?” The author provides answers to these questions by walking through the metanarrative of holy Scripture and helping his reader see the major themes that run straight through the entire story. In my own estimation, Alexander’s work was a delight; I believe he was successful at proposing a biblical and interesting answer to each of these questions. The purpose for human existence is a familiar question and answer to me, but the divine intent in creating planet earth is a concept that hasn’t been given much time in my own mind. This book added quality and content to both of these concepts for me. Alexander’s book is a marvelous and accessible text that brings the reader from Eden to the New Jerusalem by briskly walking through the Scriptures in a remarkable way.
The tall task of seeking to answer huge questions is matched by the author’s panoramic view of the Scriptures, as well as his firm grasp of the major themes in the overarching story. He demonstrates a keen familiarity with the Bible’s story-like composition as he calls the reader’s attention to the opening and closing of the canonical collection. Alexander points out the similarities found in the biblical accounts of creation at the beginning and re-creation at the end. Alexander says:
By providing a closely matched beginning and end, the opening chapters of Genesis and the final chapters of Revelation undoubtedly frame the biblical meta-story… Whereas Genesis presents the earth as a potential building site, Revelation describes a finished city. Underlying the construction of this city is the expectation that God will reside within it, sharing its facilities with people from every nation.
In this way, the author sets the stage for how he intends to answer those two big questions. Genesis and Revelation do indeed provide a marvelous frame for the picturesque story of God’s purposes for earth and humanity. Alexander nearly repeats himself in his conclusion when he makes a more direct statement, offering answers to the original questions. He says:
As we move from Genesis to Revelation, a consistent and coherent pattern emerges, centered on the idea that God created this earth with the intention of constructing an arboreal temple-city. This unique metropolis, as God’s abode, will be inhabited by people who display the holy nature of God himself.
Here, the author provides concise answers to the two questions: (1) the earth exists to be a dwelling place for God with humanity, and (2) humans exist to be appropriate image-bearers of God. Alexander’s arguments display designs that are introduced at creation and climax at recreation. He traced more than the two following concepts in this book, but these seemed to me to be the convergence of all streams.
The Temple-city. It seems clear that the purpose for earth’s existence (according to Alexander) is to be one massive “arboreal temple-city,” and this is what it will one day be. Alexander seeks to demonstrate this idea is not only how God intends the earth to be eventually, but that this is God’s intention from the very beginning. The author highlights the coherence and order found in the Garden of Eden. He also shows how God commissioned the apex of His creation (humanity) to cultivate the same characteristics throughout the earth. Of course, Adam failed in this task, but God’s purposes were not thwarted.
The Tabernacle and Temple were miniature replicas of the cosmic temple-city in which God dwelt with humanity. Alexander provides some parallels between Eden and the Tabernacle, when he says, “As divine sanctuaries, both are entered from the east and cherubim guard their entrances. The golden menorah that stood in the Holy Place may have been designed specifically to resemble the tree of life” (34). Such resemblance is also found in the later Temple, but these both point to a greater demonstration of God making His “tabernacle” or dwelling among humanity. Of course, Jesus Christ is a clear touch-point for humanity; He is “God with us.” Alexander points out, however, that this incredible condescension is not the last step in the progression of God dwelling among humanity.
The Church is metaphorically presented in the New Testament as the temple of God. In Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, and elsewhere the author points to the imagery of the temple-city as used to describe the assembly of God’s people in Christ. Of course, the Church is also presented as the “body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12; Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27), and Alexander argues for a logical progression. “Since Christ’s body is the temple of God and since… Christians are those who are ‘in Christ’, it naturally follows that the church, as the body of Christ, is also the temple of God” (71).
Still, the author makes clear that the temple-city to come is yet to be enjoyed, even by those who are counted among the church in the here and now. Citing the author of Hebrews, Alexander reminds his readers that the city we await is a “city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). Therefore, Alexander argues that the temple-city, of which God is the architect, will one day cover all the earth. In the new creation there shall be no chaos or disorder, but all shall be as God intended from the beginning. God will dwell with humanity in the worldwide temple-city called in Scripture “the new Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2). This divinely prepared city will undoubtedly be a marvelous dwelling, in which image-bearing humans will enjoy communion with their God.
Holy Priest-Kings. Alexander, in the concluding statements of his book (cited above), asserts that the purpose or end of humanity is to “display the holy nature of God” (188). God created humanity as image-bearers, and Alexander says, “To be made in the ‘image of God’ is to be given regal status” (77). He traces royal attributes in Adam, Melchizedek (the mysterious priest-king), Abraham, and the nation of Israel. Adam, who was the first vice regent of God on earth, failed to fulfill his role of image-bearer well, and the same is the case for those humans who followed him. The need for a more perfect representative is repeated again and again, and Alexander points out the issue when he says that no image-bearers can “be genuine priest-kings and simultaneously disregard God’s instructions” (84). The role of image-bearing can only be filled appropriately by humans who are reflecting the nature of the supreme King accurately.
Jesus is the key figure who reinstitutes God’s kingdom on earth, and Alexander recalls, “The establishment of this kingdom, one of the central ideas of the Gospels, is intimately associated with who Jesus is and what he does” (89). Jesus is the God-man, and His right representation of God’s holy nature brings the human purpose into marvelous focus. Like the concept of temple-city, the concept of image-bearing priest-kings narrows at Christ and also expands from Him.
The Church enjoys this image-bearing priest-king status in the same way that the Church enjoys the status of being the “body of Christ.” Therefore, Alexander argues, the Church is now the visible kingdom of God on earth. However, the fullness of what the image-bearing priest-kings will be is yet to come in the new heavens and the new earth. The author describes a future time, as presented in Scripture and brought about by God Himself, when humanity will appropriately display the holy nature of God. As Alexander says, “Then, and only then, shall we know life as God intends it to be” (192).
There was so much to enjoy about this concise book. I appreciated Alexander’s ability to trace concepts and themes from one end of the Scriptures to the other. I was thrilled to see the end result of God’s masterpiece as Alexander helped his own readers understand how to focus in on the overarching story of the Bible. In my judgment, Alexander did meet his own stated goal of answering the two big questions of life. The purpose for the earth is to be an “arboreal temple-city,” and the purpose of humanity is to “display the holy nature of God himself.” Of course, the two answers are more fully developed in this book and even more so throughout the Scriptures.
Alexander was able, I believe, to demonstrate the biblical view that God intended something like a temple-city from the beginning. The correlations between Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21-22 are tremendously striking indeed. Alexander highlighted continuity and further development of this concept throughout the biblical text, and it was not forced or manipulated. I would even argue that the emphasis Alexander placed on certain key elements, such as the detailed décor of the Temple and the building metaphor in association to the New Testament Church, helped open my own eyes to be better able to see more of the same semblance elsewhere.
The theme of image-bearing priest-kings was also strongly communicated. I was familiar with the ‘Image of God’ in the creation of Adam and Eve, and I was familiar with the notion that God commissioned Adam and Eve as something like ambassadors or delegates to rule as extensions of the supreme King. What I did not know so well was that this same concept was repeated in others before the coming of Christ. I was fascinated to see that the delegation of God’s vice regents was actually quite a staple of the Old Testament storyline. Alexander has helped me to understand that Christ’s role as the ultimate Priest-King is and was more expected than surprising. This too has expanded my understanding of who the Church is today and what she is to do. The implications of Alexander’s highlighted themes are many, to be sure.
Overall, I found Alexander’s arguments to be clear, biblical and compelling. Each of the concepts mentioned above were thoroughly outlined from the Scriptures themselves, and logically sound. God from intentionally established the purpose for earth and humanity before creation, and God has been moving these purposes forward throughout history. The Bible’s overarching story is a spectacular display of God’s wisdom and power, as He has been building a city in which to dwell with a holy people. Both the people and the city are the products of God’s intentional and affectionate attention.
I would recommend this book to every adult Christian. It will help the reader understand how the Bible tells the story of God’s redeeming work from creation to re-creation.
Alexander, T. Desmond. From Eden to the New Jerusalem. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2008.