The Spirit of the Lord, §10: The New Jerusalem

What, then, does it mean to be the people of the covenant? What does it mean to confess that Immanuel is Lord, that God is “the Holy One in our midst” (Hos. 11:9)? What kind of life follows from the euangelion of shalom? We have already emphasized the essential task of witness given to the ecclesial community in light of the messianic mediation of Christ. But we also need to examine what that community looks like. To put the matter more broadly, what are the central features of our ecclesial identity, and how is that identity shaped by the eschatological hope toward which the community of faith is oriented? A key passage from Micah (4:1-4) offers just one vision of what the eschatological community looks like, though it coheres well with the overall biblical witness to the coming of God’s messianic kingdom. Micah’s vision is, in many ways, paradigmatic for our understanding of the new creation. We will examine the passage in closer detail and conclude with a final reflection on the meaning of Immanuel.

It is worth noting that Micah 4:1-3 is found also in Isaiah 2:2-4. The duplication of the oracle suggests that both prophets are quoting from a common source, probably a traditional oracle of the time. In the sections that follow, I will speak about these verses as “Micah’s vision,” despite the fact that this eschatological vision precedes Micah’s text. That said, the passage sits somewhat awkwardly in Isaiah’s introduction, where the oracle stands between a description of Jerusalem’s wickedness (Isa. 1:2-31) and a pronunciation of judgment upon the house of Jacob (Isa. 2:5-4:1). In the middle we find these peculiar verses describing Zion as the future “mountain of the LORD’s house” (Isa. 2:2). Jerusalem is not the present den of social injustice but rather the place from which the Lord gives instruction to the nations of the earth. The placement of the oracle at the start of Isaiah serves both to foreshadow the vivid descriptions of the new heavens and new earth at the end of Isaiah and to relativize the judgment oracles in light of the coming eschatological reality. Isa. 2:2-4 thus serves to emphasize the provisionality of divine wrath and human suffering in relation to the eternality and universality of divine rectification and human peace.

The same oracle fits more comfortably within Micah’s prophetic vision of restoration after the exile. In the first three chapters, Micah presents a series of judgments against Samaria and Judah, much like those found in Isaiah. Micah denounces the social evils among the Israelites in Mic. 2:1-11 just as Isaiah does in Isa. 5:8-23. But Mic. 4 marks the turning point in the book, in which the prophet transitions from judgment and condemnation to hope and consolation. The prophet speaks of peace and security in 4:1-5, of restoration and rebuilding after the exile in 4:6-5:1, and of a future ruler from Bethlehem who “shall be the one of peace” that will “feed his flock in the strength of the LORD” in 5:2-6. At the end of the book, Micah writes again about the restoration of God’s people, and the prophet closes by praising the compassion and steadfast love of the Lord: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency” (7:18). In light of God’s faithfulness to the covenant and the hope of the New Jerusalem, the prophet declares to those who hear these words here and now: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8). The prophet declares the present-tense imperative in light of the past-tense indicative of God’s faithfulness—“For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery” (6:4)—and the future-tense indicative of the eschatological kingdom—“In that day, says the LORD, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away . . . and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion now and forevermore” (4:6a, 7b).

What are the central features of Micah’s eschatological vision of the New Jerusalem? There are six characteristics worth noticing, each of which will take us beyond the horizon of the passage itself into wider theological territory. The six defining characteristics of the New Jerusalem are: (1) the covenant, (2) universality, (3) political pacifism, (4) logocentrism, (5) forensicism, and (6) eschatology.