T. Desmond Alexander has been a senior lecturer in biblical studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, Ireland since 2009. Previously he was a lecturer in Semitic Studies at Queens’ University in Belfast for 18 years. Numerous titles have been written or co-edited by Alexander including, From Paradise to the Promised Land, The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology and Dictionary of the Old Testament. The academic work in the area of biblical theology as both scholar and professor distinguishes Alexander as a qualified author for the book under review.
Alexander composes in, From Eden to the New Jerusalem a brief, yet comprehensive biblical theology of the biblical metanarrative. Opening with the final two chapters of Revelation Alexander works through the canon accenting the motif of God’s movement from old creation to new creation. The thesis of the book asserts that the eternal purpose of God for creation is to establish an everlasting Kingdom in an arboreal temple-city where God resides with holy priestly people serving God as viceroys. God’s purpose in creation is to dwell with humanity on the earth, but the sin of Adam relinquished humanity’s vicegerency and dominion over creation was given to the serpent. Nevertheless, God sovereignly initiates His mission in Genesis 3 to crush the serpent, resume authority over creation and redeem a people who will dwell with Him in the eternal temple-city of New Jerusalem. This book review will demonstrate that Alexander successfully contends that the metanarrative of Scripture is God realizing the original divine design for creation to be His sanctuary on earth.
Alexander makes the reader aware at the onset of his objective, accomplished with two questions that have historically captivated humanity: “1. Why was the earth created? 2. What is the reason for human existence?” (9). In the subsequent seven chapters these questions are answered through biblical exegesis, demonstrating that God created the earth to be a temple-city dwelling place where humanity would be vicegerent priest-kings. Despite the fall God will once again restore creation to this intended purpose (14). God introduces a new covenant after the Edenic fall with an elect people progressively redeeming the creation purpose of dwelling with humanity (30). Alexander exposes this theme through the whole of Scripture illustrating the parallels of the original creation with the new creation in Revelation. He begins in Eden and then moves to the tabernacle, to the Jerusalem temple, to the church and to the New Jerusalem. An exposition that affirms God’s desire in creation is to reside on earth with a people (18).
Adam and Eve were created to be the viceroys of God commissioned to construct and expand the dwelling place of God globally (78). Their failure to display the holy nature of God by siding with the serpent transitioned the created order into disorder (106). God will, however, realize His plan to abide in a future eternal temple-city free of sin by redeeming a portion of humanity, destroying Satan and removing his illegitimate earthly authority. This is accomplished through the sacrificial death of Jesus as the Lamb of God who completely delivers the elect of God through the atonement of Christ. Salvation creates a holy people to inhabit the New Jerusalem. God’s method to atone, purify and sanctify the residents of the future Kingdom is solely accomplished in by the blood of the Messianic Lamb (134). The Johannine vision of a living, yet slaughtered Lamb gives proof of the propitiatory success of Christ and gives hope for those finding redemption through His blood.
The redemptive work of Jesus to create in Himself a new people that will dwell with God is the final work necessary to create a whole and holy citizenship for the New Jerusalem. Alexander reminds the reader of the necessity of personal holiness and the church’s future hope of dwelling with God. Personal holiness has been a requirement for relationship with God since the creation of Adam. This is illustrated in the Mosaic Law and God’s requirements of Israel to dwell with Him. Furthermore, the New Testament mandates the church to be holy (1 Pet 1:16). To be in fellowship with God requires holiness and wholeness, a relationship that Adam once enjoyed and one that will be eternally enjoyed by the redeemed in the eternal city (156). Alexander’s motivation for resisting the appeal of Babylon is founded on the promise of God to bring to fulfillment a new creation for His people (181). Presently, the children of God, by faith, anticipate the New Jerusalem and the eternal destruction of the current Babylonian kingdom.
Alexander proves the thesis that the meta-story of the Bible is God actively redeeming His original intent for creation to be His sanctuary on earth with humanity serving as His viceroys. The success of this argument is largely attributed to the scholarship and biblical references cited by Alexander. The suggestion that God initially proposed Eden to be His residence as a temple garden is supported through the parallels provided by Alexander between Eden, the tabernacle and Jerusalem temple. Eden was to be a sanctuary, which would eventually, under the dominion of man as God’s viceroys expand throughout the created world.
Earth as God’s Dwelling Place
The most persuasive argument in support of Alexander’s thesis is the comparison of God’s indwelling of the church at Pentecost and His partial dwelling in Jerusalem with God dwelling in Eden in the Genesis account. This connection shows the progressive restoration of creation with God reestablishing His dwelling place on earth. It is made clear that God’s founding of the tabernacle and temple all serve to illustrate God’s creation design and desire. The ornamental decoration functions to remind Israel of God’s eternal plan to dwell with His people. The arboreal symbolism of the tabernacle and temple, according to Alexander, is a figurative depiction of God’s celestial plan to dwell among a people as He did in Eden (25). Furthermore, in reference to the building of the temple in Jerusalem Alexander argues, “Jerusalem/ Zion becomes a model of God’s creation blueprint and reflects in microcosm what God intends for the whole earth. However, it is not the final product. As the dwelling place of God on earth, the temple-city of Jerusalem is in miniature what God intends for the whole world” (45).
Supplemented by the Pauline teaching that God’s current earthly temple is the church, Alexander creates a convincing argument that the objective of God in creation is to abide with a people who reflect His holy nature (1 Cor 6:16). God’s covenant inaugurated on Mount Sinai to dwell with Israel, the incarnation of Christ and the later indwelling of the church at Pentecost asserts there is a development of God creating a new creation that consummates with the installation of New Jerusalem. This is a predicted reality by the authors of Scripture and an interpretation presented by Alexander.
Humanity as God’s Earthly Viceroys
Successfully, Alexander depicts God’s desire to dwell with a people, but he also effectively demonstrates the reality that all those who are in Christ are to be God’s viceroys on the new earth. Considering his argument is twofold; God is moving towards a new creation that will be His future dwelling place and that man will be His holy priest-kings, successful presentation of this point is critical. Restoration to this holy priestly status is alluded to in the Hebrew Scripture and revealed more clearly through the work of Christ in the church. Making comparison with the Passover and the Exodus and Jesus as the final Passover Lamb of God Alexander explains there is one way a person can be restored back to the original priest-king statues. Restoration is only possible through the substitutionary death of Jesus. The redemptive work of Christ makes holy and whole all those in Christ. Alexander states, “like the original Passover sacrifice, his death atones for the sin of the people, his blood purifies and cleanses, and those who eat his body at the Lord’s Supper share in his holy nature. In this way, the followers of Jesus become ‘holy ones’ or ‘saints” (135).
Alexander rightly notes that the death and blood of Jesus atones and purifies the sinner, recovering for them the Edenic viceroy position. His connection between the Lord’s Supper and sanctification, however, is unclear. Weakly, Alexander contends that the eating of the Lord’s Supper makes the believer holy, just as the eating of the Passover Lamb consecrated the Hebrew people at the Passover (Exod 12:1-13). Other scholars argue this position, however, the connection between the Lord’s Supper and the Passover requires more textual evidence to persuade the reader of Alexander’s interpretive argument.
Believers are positionally holy in Christ at conversion and the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper is a worshipful celebration to remember the completed work of Christ on behalf of the church (1 Cor 11:25). Similarity is seen in the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper by Christ and the original Passover, but to make claim that partaking in the Lord’s Supper makes the believer holy needs more explanation (Luke 22:7-38). However, in spite of this weakness in relating the sacrament and sanctification, the propitiatory work of the Lamb is God’s providential strategy to create a new priesthood to inhabit the new earth. This particular component of the book is a major strength. It is an exhortation and affirmation of God’s ordained purpose in creation.
God’s Sovereignty over Sin
Overall Alexander failed to satisfactorily magnify the absolute sovereignty of God over sin, a subject that should be more prominent when dealing with the metanarrative of Scripture. Alexander states, “the biblical meta-story indicates that God’s sovereignty does not extend unchallenged over the present earth” (75). This is true, but it does not negate His absolute sovereignty over creation. Certainly, Alexander indicates throughout the book his affirmation of God’s divine sovereignty, but the book neglects to present it in a satisfactory manner (79).
The Edenic fall relinquished Adam and Eve’s priestly position, but also created opportunity for God to display a more comprehensive picture of His nature. God’s promise of redemption in Genesis 3:15 indicates His sovereignty over all creation; in spit of the serpent and sin God’s creation plan would not be destroyed. Adam forfeited temporary authority to Satan, but this authority is limited and subjected to God’s ultimate divine authority as Creator. Alexander neglects to adequately present this thought in his presentation. In fact, Alexander describes God’s restoration of creation as a “restoration of God’s sovereignty over the earth” rather than a display of His sovereignty (79).
Moreover, Alexander’s detailing of the tower of Babel focuses more on the depth of man’s depravity and continued decline in the created order, opposed to focusing on the sovereignty of God over the situation. Alexander is correct in describing the tower as, “the antithesis of what God intends,” but more could have been said to highlight God’s use of their sin to create the nations to which the church would be commission to make disciples (29). The tower of Babel is opportunity for Alexander to magnify God’s divine ability to use man’s rebellion as occasion to accomplish His purpose. God’s creation of the new multi-ethnic peoples is a foreshadowing of the diversity of the redeemed new temple city inhabitants. Although Alexander affirms God’s sovereignty indirectly, a more deliberate presentation of God’s authoritative management over creation is desired.
The brevity with which Alexander presents his subject, the meta-story of Scripture, prevents him from being able to present opposing perspectives to the metanarrative of the Bible. Nevertheless, the detailed presentation of his interpretation is extraordinary in such a short book. Any reader having general familiarity with the Bible and God’s activity in history will find Alexander’s, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, to be a valuable resource that provides clarity to the Biblical metanarrative. Alexander demonstrates that accurate understanding of the Bible requires an understanding of God’s intentional activity throughout the canon. The whole biblical narrative is a grander and more fluid story than the one being taught within many evangelical circles. Alexander’s contention that the metanarrative of Scripture is God realizing the original divine design for creation to be His sanctuary on earth with the reestablishment of redeemed humanity’s vicegerency is successfully argued and defended with concise detail.