I’ve always been drawn to the prophetic books of the Bible, not least because Revelations was written by my patron saint, John the Evangelist, but also because of their strangeness; they are unlike any other text one encounters, religious or secular. So I enjoyed the opportunity to re-read Revelations 18-22 in light of what I learned in the course about the Hebraic map.
What stood out to me most about the course, quite evident in the passage from Revelations, is the centrality of the Kingdom–Jerusalem–to God’s plan for the end times. I grew up in a religious setting that focused almost exclusively on the particular judgment (i.e. “getting to Heaven”) and not much on the Last Things. This is perhaps excusable, since “getting to Heaven” is more practical, less speculative, and less disconcerting than focusing on the very strange prophetic material at the end of the Bible. But as Robert Nicholson points out, an exclusive focus on the particular judgment gives one a skewed and incomplete understanding of God’s plan for mankind and history. The Kingdom is central and tangible; the Bible concludes with this material for a reason. When we go to the wedding feast of the Lamb, we will find, as Pope Saint John Paul II wrote, that “the ‘heaven’ or ‘happiness’ in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity.”
Furthermore, I was struck by how the New Jerusalem is described in Revelations in a way that unites God’s chosen people, the Jews, with the Christian community. Both are literally inscribed on the city’s gates and foundations: “Twelve angels were at the gates; the names of the 12 tribes of Israel’s sons were inscribed on the gates… The city wall had 12 foundations, and the 12 names of the Lamb’s 12 apostles were on the foundations.” This is about as “Hebraic” of a message as one can send. It shows that God’s covenants are eternal. The Old and the New are represented together in God’s Kingdom.
Finally, orienting our view of Christianity around the Kingdom and Jerusalem affects our view of politics and world events, although in a mysterious and non-obvious way. Jerusalem is a physical place that will be transformed in the end times into a marvelous Kingdom of God. At the time of the Jews’ return to the Holy Land as part of the Zionist movement, Christians saw this as a significant portent that God was moving in the world, even in a modern age when man was becoming disenchanted with faith and in a mood for ‘debunking.’ We are even more jaded today, and Christians know less knowledge of Scripture and eschatology so we are not accustomed to thinking about the Middle East as more than a museum, but we should. God is still moving in this world in a mysterious way. As we think about the Holy Land, we should appreciate it not merely as a store of history but a land that still has a vital role to play in God’s plan for us.