When trusting Jesus more, leads to questioning traditional lore

Galatians and the New Jerusalem

The other day at our church gathering, two friends and I talked about Galatians. They shared some thoughts about new perspectives on Paul, which are about a more Hebrew and contextual way of reading Paul than what has been typically done in Christianity. They asked us to try and understand Judaism on it’s own terms, rather than through the lenses we’ve been given by tradition. Namely, our Protestant lens has been filtered mostly through Luther’s understanding of Judaism. For example, they said that Judaism views itself as a faith of grace. This comes as a surprise to most Christians who are taught to view Judaism as a law-based faith, juxtaposed against a grace-based Christianity.

  • But they were on to something. They said that the law in Judaism wasn’t what one did to get favor with God, but it was like a badge that one wore as a sign marking them as the people of God.
I hear that. And to which I would add a complementary portion. As many Protestants see it, the believers before Jesus, Jews, were saved by their faith in the Messiah to come. People who believe Jesus was that expected Messiah are now called Christians. So we, Christian believers, are saved by our faith in the Messiah who came, died and resurrected. It is essentially the same faith and grace-based system in the big picture. Old Covenant saints were saved by their faith in the Christ to come, we are saved by our faith in the Christ who came.
  • Under the Old Covenant, the badge that the Jews wore was the law. And under the New Covenant, the badge that we wear is LOVE, since, to fulfill the “law of Christ” is to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:1). As Paul says, the thing that really matters now is “faith working itself out in love” and so do good to everyone “without growing weary” (Gal 6:9). But the Galations seem to be having a hard time understanding what it means to be free. Or what it means to be the people of God now. So he gives them a little lesson from redemption history to help them understand where they are in the grand scheme of things.
In Galatians 4, Paul expresses his frustration with those who are turning back to the Old law. He wants them to know who they are and why they don’t need to worry about the Old Covenant law anymore. He does this by contrasting and comparing the two covenantal worlds, finally telling them that they are in a time in which the Old Covenant is about to be cast out. But as for then, the Covenants are Transitioning, or overlapping, just as Ishmael (representing the Old Covenant) and Isaac (New Covenant) overlapped in the SAME HOUSEHOLD when the older brother persecuted the younger brother, before the older brother was “cast out”.
Paul draws out an allegory using a familiar Old Covenant story of Abraham’s two sons by two wives, Hagar and Sarah.
For it is written, Abraham had TWO SONS, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. These things are symbolic: for these are the TWO COVENANTS; One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar… she corresponds to the PRESENT JERUSALEM, for she is in slavery with her children. But the JERUSALEM ABOVE is free, and she is our mother. (Gal 4:22-26)
Paul is not so much contrasting two covenantal people, but one people, transitioning through two stages of faith. There is some continuity here amidst the contrast. Paul likens the Old Covenant to a tutor, schooling them in their younger days, teaching them the “elementary principles” of the law. And making them aware of sin and righteousness. But it served its purpose, it brought them up to the time of Jesus. After Jesus, they no longer need their tutor, because they have something better, freedom in Jesus. Faith in Jesus was doing for them what even the law could not do. And it was bringing them to a new stage of faith, a new kind of relationship, or covenant, with God.
So then, the law was our guardian (or tutor or schoolmaster in KJV) until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian…(Gal 3:24-25)
It’s important to see that the brothers, or covenants, are OVERLAPPING for a time, as this is something that traditional Christian theology often overlooks. Which is why this analogy is overlooked as confusing or unimportant. But there are GEMS HERE for the one willing to dig a little deeper. The Old Covenant world was giving way to the New Covenant world, just as in Abraham’s household the roost ruled by Ishmael gave way to the roost ruled by Isaac. When they lived under the same roof, the older persecuted the younger and had to be “cast out”.
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, SO ALSO IT IS NOW. But what does the Scripture say? “CAST OUT the slave woman and her SON
Did you notice the comparison Paul makes to his “present time” again by saying “so also it is now”? What does Paul mean by drawing a parallel between his time and the persecution of Isaac by Ishmael? What does he mean to also compare that time to the then-present city of Jerusalem? Why does Paul say Hagar is from Sinai? And why does Paul call begin his letter by calling the time he was living in an “evil age” that he hopes to be delivered from (Gal 1:4)?
Paul’s “present time” was after the Resurrection of Jesus, and before the Fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. This is why Paul says it is represented by the “present” city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was still standing, it hadn’t fallen yet, but it was about to be destroyed. So Paul was in the period of covenantal Transition between Pentecost and the 70AD Fall of Jerusalem.
  • Where did this idea of the then-standing Temple representing their ‘evil’ age come from? Glad you asked! It came from Jesus’ teaching. In a sermon that Jesus gave, (Mt 24, Mk 13, Lk 21), the Olivet Discourse, he had a discussion with his disciples where he told them that the Temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed within their generation (Gk genea). This was a shocking prophecy, like someone standing by the Twin Towers and predicting their demise, back in 1990.
  • It is evident by the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ shocking prediction about the Temple’s coming destruction, that they understood a lot about what that event would signify. They reacted with a flurry of very telling questions about it, like “when will these things be, what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Those disciples knew the Old Testament. They knew what a ‘coming of God’ was in the Old Testament too (see my page “Comings of God”). It was when God 1) predicted the doom of a city through a prophet 2) said he would come there to judge it 3) sent an enemy army to exact God’s judgment, usually ending the ‘heaven and earth’ of that society’s “world”.
  • Jesus’ disciples knew that the destruction of the Temple would mark the ‘end of the age’ they were living in, which is why they asked when it would occur. What age would it be that was ending? It was the Old Covenant age. One might ask, didn’t that age end with Jesus’ crucifixion, when the garment in the Temple tore? Almost. That was the beginning of the end of the Old Covenant, or the start of the Last Days of the Old Covenant. This is why Peter begins acts by saying “THIS IS what was prophesied by Joel” (Acts 2:16). It was because that was an Old Testament prophecy about the “Last Days”. And it was fulfilled among them back THEN. They were living in the Last Days of their Old Covenant world, and they knew it.
Jesus’s crucifixion was when animal sacrifices were made obsolete by Jesus’ sacrifice. But the Jesus-followers would be in a Transition Period of 40 years, foreshadowed by Moses living in the desert for 40 years before his ‘second coming’ to set his people free from slavery. Paul also compares the Transition Period to a human gestation period, which, interestingly, is 40 weeks. They would wander, in that desert, that overlapping period, spreading the Gospel throughout the towns of Judea before the ultimate ‘Moses’ came again to fully set them free. When Jesus came, the old sacrifice system would be fully “cast out”.
  • Jesus predicted this would happen and he talked about it often. He described the Temple falling like it would be an outward, earthly sign of a much more important, spiritual, event – a change that would fulfill a long-awaited promise. He signified this by the apocalyptic passages that he picked up on from the Old Testament reapplied in his Discourse. He was speaking in the manner of a prophet, referring back to what they already knew from their history, yet assigning new meaning to the words as well, by casting their gaze forward to an even greater event. There would be visible signs in the sky and armies surrounding the city, so they wouldn’t miss it. (Interestingly, Josephus, Tacitus and Eusebius record angelic armies, complete with chariots, and soldiers in flight, IN the sky, surrounding the city before its fall). But all this was to come later.
These Galatians were still transitioning between two covenantal worlds. Their faith journey was described by Paul as going from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion, from Old to New, from law to Christ, from being children of Hagar, to children of Sarah. During their Transition, the elements (Gk stoicheia) or ‘elementary principles’ of the first world were dissolving and melting away (as Peter also described, using the same word). The whole order of the first society was about to be rolled up like a scroll and and tossed into the fire.
They were living through the pregnant times, and beginning to experience the birth pangs of the new world order that was emerging. They were living and free, but not yet totally free, like a germinated kernel inside of a planted seed (another analogy of Paul’s, 1 Cor 15). Or like a persecuted younger brother. They were the younger brother, but they hoped in the promise of inheriting like an heir, like a first-born.
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his SEED. It does NOT say, “And to SEEDS,” referring to many, but referring to ONE, “And to your SEED,” WHO IS CHRIST…And if YOU are Christ’s, then YOU ARE ABRAHAM’S SEED, HEIRS ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE. (Gal 3:16, 29)
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus made this new and inclusive Transition possible. Jesus inaugurated the change with his earthly ministry. In him, the law was made obsolete. In Jesus, was the fulfillment of the law, and the power of sin and death became void. Though every bit of the law was still being kept alive and performed to the letter, at the Temple. All the sacrifices and food requirements, every jot and tittle of the law was still happening. Jesus said this is the way it would be until he would come and do away with the ‘heaven and earth’ of Old in that generation (Mt 24:36). The law was to become fully fulfilled at his coming, signified by the Fall of Jerusalem, and when it was fulfilled, that first law would roll up like the scroll it was written upon. It would pass away. What would follow it is a Kingdom ruled by the law of LOVE.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:14)
Jesus’ resurrection was the assurance of, and Pentecost the “down payment” for, that age-ending event, the arrival, or Parousia, of Jesus into his Kingdom, his Kingdom among us. When the Old world of the law, dictated by the mediator-priest, would finally pass away, and the New world of the spirit would be ushered in along with God’s presence. After the natural Temple fell, there would be no more need for a Temple on earth, because God’s people would be his Temple, his dwelling place. In this New world, brotherly love would reign as a badge among God’s people – “faith, working itself out in love”. We live in that new world NOW ! But Paul lived in the time in between.
  • The time that Paul said the Galations were living in was like when Ishmael and Isaac lived in the same house. They were living in the time of OVERLAP between the two covenants. Paul used this story to make a prophetic parallel to the Galatians and to restore their hope of inheriting their promise from God. Paul looked forward to the New world order, represented by “the Jerusalem above” when the children of Sarah would shine forth unhindered.
But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. (Gal 4:26)
The “Jerusalem above” “our mother” who is “free” is also Sarah, the free-woman bride of Abraham who is having children of the promise, like Isaac. Who is giving birth to spiritual children of God’s promise? The Spirit-filled body of Christ, calling people to God and working among the body of believers in Jesus. The ‘Jerusalem above’ is the church. She is our ‘mother’. It is she who is multiplying, laboring, and giving birth to believers.
  • The “Jerusalem above” is contrasted to the earthly Jerusalem that then was, before its Fall. This is a classic use of the type and anti-type in Scripture. In Old Jerusalem was a type, a shadow of what was to come. The Jerusalem from above was a “new” Jerusalem and it would be different than the one they had known. It would be the fulfillment of all that to which the first one had pointed. This new Jerusalem seems to correspond to the new Jerusalem that John also sees descending to earth, dressed like a bride, after the old Jerusalem passed away, or was ‘cast out’, in Revelation 22.
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev 22:2)
And what is this New Jerusalem? It is the place where God dwells. It is also his bride. This is why the very next verse that follows the New Jerusalem, the bride, the wife, the mother, says this:
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“. (Rev 22:3)
This is because the New Jerusalem is not a city, like the old one was. It is what that city pointed towards but could not ever become. The New Jerusalem is GOD’S NEW COVENANT PEOPLE. The Temple in this city is also designated as us believers. Temple, City, even all of Israel – Paul calls believers the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). All of these particular types find their fulfillment in the family of believers that make up the New Kingdom of God on earth (now!). This is the everlasting Kingdom of believers. Invisible to the world, save our love and good works. This is the Kingdom to which all the others pointed. The Kingdom of believers in Jesus, the true seed of Abraham, everyone grafted into the family of God.
  • So, to extend the analogy, where Sarah is Abraham’s wife. Abraham represents God. And Sarah, his wife, bears the seed, who is eventually Jesus. We are all grafted in through Jesus, like brothers and true heirs. We become heirs like Jesus. But then – it is as if we become even greater – we become the bride, even the wife.
  • As a collective whole, the New Covenant people of God emerge from the seed whence they began. They began as the smallest seed, surely the smallest and newest kind of people group on the face of the earth. But, like a mustardseed, we germinated inside our shell. And then, when the seed was planted, we began to grow and multiply. Now we measure as many as the sand in the sea. Just like God promised Abraham he would do through his offspring, Christ.
In 70AD the very center of the Old Covenant world, the Temple, its sacrificial system, and Jerusalem as a whole, fell. Many believe that this was the ‘end of the age’ when Jesus made good on his promise to return to his disciples. He said he would come, fulfill and put away the Old Covenant way of things, resurrect his people out of their seed-shell – and out of their citizenship in Hades and replace it with a citizenship with God called eternal life. Jesus ushered in the New Covenant age of spirit, love, grace and freedom – unhindered by the burden of keeping the law. Now the law is Christ, whose “burden is light”.
  • So we come full circle. Was Old Covenant faith, Judaism, a religion of grace? Since God is a God of grace and He was the same then and now, it seems that yes, in a sense, it was. Even if this grace was germinating like a seed inside of it’s shell, its still grace when its from God.
Where does that leave us? What’s in Galations for us? Well, we live after the fall of Jerusalem, after the Old Covenant age that Paul calls ‘evil’ (Gal 1:4). We live, not just as children of Sarah, inheriting as the “first born”, but also like the bride of Christ. WE ARE that promised free world. It is breaking into our natural world through us, through our love and good works toward one another. WE ARE populating that ‘world to come’ in the new age after the great restoration of God’s New Creation – US – the new redeemed creation! We now live in the restored presence of God with humanity. And that’s pretty good news!

8 Responses to Galatians and the New Jerusalem

  1. Tim Martin says:

    Hey Riley,

    Nice work with this article. Very impressive.

    I am convinced that this pattern is repeated a few times in Israel’s history as well. Another example that comes to mind is the transition from the Kingdom under the house of Saul to the Kingdom under the house of David. Those two houses represent two covenants as well. The first persecuted the second until the day Saul died.

    You get an echo of that history in the NT with Paul in Acts 9. How did Paul escape the conspiracy of the Jews to kill him? He was lowered in a basket from the wall (9:25). Bears a remarkable similarity to David escaping from Saul in 1 Samuel 19. Thus, after his conversion, Paul is no longer Saul persecuting David (Jesus), but becomes like David being persecuted by Saul (the Judaizers).

    A few years ago, the congregation here at Covenant Community Church did a study through Galatians as viewed in covenant context. Bo Stuart’s preaching bears a remarkable similarity to the concepts you outline above. The sermon series can be accessed at http://www.truthinliving.org/index.php?pr=SerGAL


    Tim Martin

  2. Micah Martin says:


    This is a great article. I am going to share it, archive it, and share it some more.



    • Riley says:

      Wow, Micah, I’m so honored! Just glad to be contributing on this exciting topic. So much for us to learn, share and enjoy! I look forward to hearing more posts and such from you too.

  3. That was excellen, thank you!

  4. Jerel Kratt says:


    That was one of the best written essay on this subject that I have read. I saved it, printed it, and plan on reading it in the class I teach at my church. Thank you for writing it! —Jerel

  5. Jerel Kratt says:

    That was one of the best written essays on that subject I have read. I saved it, printed it, and plan on reading it in the class I teach at my church. Thank you for writing it! —Jerel

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