Book Review: "From Eden to the New Jerusalem"
by Nicholas J Mattei T. Desmond Alexander’s book From Eden to the New Jerusalem answers the questions, why was the earth created and what is the reason for human existence? The way in which Alexander lays out his answers is by producing a biblical theology starting with the first creation and then moving towards the new creation. This is accomplished specifically by tracing the biblical meta-narrative that starts in Genesis and concludes in Revelation. Alexander draws on the many motifs that exist in both the first three chapters of Genesis and the last three chapters of Revelation and connects and weaves them together to produce a beautiful illustration of God’s master plan for humanity and the cosmos.
The first motif that Alexander addresses is that of a city or divine dwelling. Alexander states that, “Whereas Genesis presents the earth as a potential building site, Revelation describes a finished city” (14). In the beginning God creates the earth and plants a garden and places humanity within the garden. His intention is to dwell amongst His creation and have His garden city expand to the ends of the earth, but because of human sin, God’s dwelling place is defiled, and so begins God’s plan to reestablish His dwelling among His creation. We see in the book of Revelation that God’s plan is realized when in chapters 21-22 the huge temple-city of God, the New Jerusalem, descends out of heaven in the shape of a massive cube. Alexander displays the steps which God takes to get from the garden city of Eden to the New Jerusalem by beginning with the tabernacle.
In the book of Exodus, we see God give the people of Israel specific instructions for building a special tent for Him to dwell amongst them in. It consists of a large courtyard surrounding it and the tent itself is divided into two sections, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. In the Holy Place there was the table of showbread, the incense altar, and the menorah, and within the Holy of Holies the ark of the covenant was placed (33). As Alexander notes, “the term used most frequently to denote the tabernacle is miskan, ‘dwelling’, and the furniture within it consisted of a chest, a table for food and a lampstand, items that point to its use as a home. The extensive use of gold in the manufacture of these objects reflects the importance of the one for whom they where fashioned” (35). This is where God would temporally dwell; He would use it to further advance His plan for reestablishing His dwelling place amongst His creation. Centuries later as Israel conquers and settles in the promised land, King Solomon builds a more permanent dwelling place, the temple in Jerusalem. As Alexander goes on, he shows how Jerusalem is equated with the new heavens and the new earth, but the temple of Jerusalem doesn’t last, and it is destroyed because of human sin. The next step in God’s plan is the establishment of the church of Jesus Christ as the new temple. Alexander draws on many New Testament texts showing that believers in Jesus are now a part of the mystical body of Christ and that the Holy Spirit now indwells them, and as the church advances throughout the world God’s presence begins to fill the earth. This leads to the consummation of all things where the church, as the citizens of heaven, inherit the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and the new earth. This motif of city, temple, and dwelling place within the meta-narrative of Scripture lays the foundation for the other motifs that Alexander will explore through his book.
The other motifs that Alexander will deal with are those of God’s throne and sovereignty, the devil/serpent, the lamb and redemption, the tree of life, and finally the walls of the city and the security of God’s people. On page 138, Alexander gives a great summary of the flow and interconnectedness of most of these motifs by saying, “God’s original blueprint for the earth envisaged a temple-city, filled with people who have both a priestly and a royal status. However, the divine plan for the word was disrupted early on when Adam and Eve rejected God’s ordering of creation and transferred their allegiance to Satan. Consequently, this earth and its inhabitants came under the devil’s dominion. In light of these events, we have traced how God has acted to reclaim the earth as his own and build a temple city by gradually establishing his presence and sovereignty through the theocracy of Israel and the church. Central to the redemptive activity of God is the cross of Christ, for through it Satan is defeated and human beings are enabled to regain the holy, royal status Adam and Eve lost.”
Alexander’s book, though small, is dense with well-established themes and connections between the many different ways and reasons God restores His creation. It is a very helpful introduction to biblical theology. It shines a light on the place that Israel and then the church plays in God’s master plan of redemption reconciling and uniting all things in Christ. As Christians we are pictured as “living stones” being built together for a holy dwelling place for God. As each aspect of God’s restoration is portrayed, the individual Christian sees their place within this majestic and glorious work. That is the strength of this book; it is both academic and devotional. Alexander helps us see how God makes provision for His defiled human race through the atonement, purification, and sanctification that is in Christ. We see God make holy and whole that which had become unclean and deformed. We observe the wilderness of this world go through the ecological restoration in the new heavens and the new earth with the tree of life, which was cut off from humanity in the original garden, now bearing fruit and providing leaves for the healing of the nations. Human beings are freed from the serpent to serve God again as priest-kings, and as Alexander puts it, “As a result of his sacrificial death upon the cross, Christ brings about a new exodus that delivers people from Satan’s control, and bestows on them a holy and royal status” (191). All of this and more go to show throughout Alexander’s book the amazing tapestry that God has woven throughout the multiple millennia in which He has been at work bringing His plan of redemption and restoration to completion. To a weary and dull soul, this wonderful display of biblical theological is sure to not only intrigue, but also encourage.
From Eden to the New Jerusalem is a great book for people beginning their quest to gain greater understanding of the many different themes used in God’s plan of salvation. Though many of these themes are deep and complex, Alexander aids his readers in drawing them out of the Scriptures and laying them out in an easy to understand way. His work will aid you in furthering your intellectual understanding of biblical theology and also spur you along to greater piety as you see more and more of the different aspects of the glorious redemption brought about by the triune God.
Alexander, T. Desmond. From Eden to the New Jerusalem. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2009. 208pp. $13.99.