I just returned from eleven days in Brooklyn, New York, the city of my birth. I loved being there. I love to walk the streets, to see the faces, to talk with the people I see there. I realized this most recent time in New York that what i feel when I’m there is joy. I cannot explain it, but it is very real. It moves me to tears even now.
I love to eat in New York. There are restaurants of every size, shape, and price. There is ethnic food such as cannot be found in similar variety and quality in any other city. I love to eat there.
I believe one of the reasons I feel so invigorated when I go to New York is that I expect to see people I know on every street corner. These are the streets of the people I knew once upon a time. The people that I see now, whom I’ve never known, still look familiar to me in some way. They’re like the people I grew up with. And the accents I hear in “Noo Yawk” tell me I am home again at last.
Another reason for my joy is that all my memories of living in New York are 50 years old and more. I left there in 1973. The children I taught in middle school are now grandparents. But when I walk the streets today I feel like I did in my youth and in my twenties, at least a half-century younger than I am now.
Of course, this all has a theological application, and here it is.
Many gospel songs tell of streets paved with gold, and Bible says that too. That’s good enough, of course! But the final destination of God’s people is not heaven, but a renewed earth where righteousness dwells, where we will all live together with all of God’s redeemed humanity in our resurrected bodies that will be like the Messiah in his resurrection, imperishable, unable to die again, free of all disease and infirmity. We will walk the streets of the renewed earth and see people that we knew and people that we’ve heard and read of. And the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Our joy in God will be deeper and more profound than anything we have even imagined much less experienced. But I am also looking forward to the human joys of being with so many people with whom I share so much in common that I feel I’ve always known them.
It's hard to believe, and for some people, I suppose it seems sappy, that human history will have a happy ending written by our father God with the blood of His Son. But that’s the way it will be. All that has gone before is but prelude to the greater reality that awaits us.
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Thank you for encouraging us through your experiences here and how they lead you to be filled with G-d’s hope, and to herald his deep joy we will share together.
Unlike you, Stuart, I'm not from NY city and have no such fond memories. Mine of a half-century ago are of Philadelphia. But neither of these cities of our youth is what it was then. Both are suffering from political forces that have made a nightmare of living there because of unchecked crime, homelessness, inflation, joblessness, and other ills. I suppose it's not terribly unlike when Holocaust survivors revisit the bones of their childhood haunts. These places may well be revitalized under the reign of the Messiah and the resulting good government, but that is yet to come.
Meanwhile, let me consider a related experience. During the same period we've been considering, Jews have been returning to the land of our ancestors where we ourselves never actually lived, yet those of us who have been immersed in our culture recognize there many familiar features of "home". We also see much that was desolate and still needs to be repaired, restored, rebuilt, etc. We are, of course, working on this while we continue to wait for the messianic revitalization. Indeed, it's good practice for the work we'll need to be doing after all the unpleasantness that precedes the establishment of the kingdom that the Messiah will rule from Jerusalem where I live now. OK, technically I live just outside the city in the Judean hills, but it's close enough that I can go hiking along trails where it is still possible to trek trails that King David undoubtedly knew as a youth. In fact, some of my hiking is alongside the Elah Valley where he killed Goliath of Gath and routed the Philistine invaders.
But we have modern invaders who have not been routed yet, who call themselves "Palestinians". However, that's another story to consider at another time. This and many other ills remain to be dealt with, now and in the future. All of them will require much effort from us, even as HaShem brings about the long-awaited era under the rule of the Messiah. Indeed, for those of us who are discipled by the teachings of the anointed Rav Yeshua ben-Yosef, who experience the down-payment of the kingdom of heaven within us and within like-minded communities, that messianic future begins now. We don't have to wait for the impending resurrection and rapture that will precede the physical establishment of that kingdom. We can serve the King Messiah by aligning our hearts and our actions with his redemptive goals even now, whether we live in the foreign diaspora neighborhoods filled with familiar memories of our childhood or we live in the less-familiar land of our ancient forefathers that was familiar to Rav Yeshua. Personally, I advocate for the "Alteneuland", but even more for the kingdom that is within us in any locale, to make of it the place that is familiar to us and filled with pleasant memories.
I don't know about any of the other readers of this blog, but I sometimes re-read them more than once. This is one of those occasions, and I found myself pondering one of the memes it invoked which is the notion of streets paved with gold in the "new Jerusalem". Now, that notion has been used for a number of metaphorical purposes, often financial ones. But I was considering a different take on the imagery, which is a "reflection" (pun intended) on the renewed Jewish Quarter in the old city of modern Jerusalem. The streets there are paved with what is called "Jerusalem stone", which has a particular coloration that includes yellowish and reddish highlights within its overall beige appearance, such that it appears -- especially under certain sunlit conditions -- rather "golden". Even streets outside the old city that are surfaced with familiar black asphalt present a similar golden appearance because the buildings on either side are "paved" or faced with Jerusalem stone. But the effect is most striking in the old city where the streets themselves are paved with that stone, and automobiles can not access such areas that are designed for foot-traffic only.
I mention this because the writers of the old gospel hymns that cited the prophetic phrasing had no conception of the actual physical imagery that would have been so familiar to the Jewish prophets whose writings they invoked. When these prophets employed that phrasing about streets paved with gold, the image in their minds would have been very much like the appearance of the renewed Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem.
Now, I'm not saying that the prophesied era of the "new Jerusalem" is already here and upon us. There are a few significant events that the eschatologically-minded among us would properly remind us are yet to be fulfilled. Rather, I'm pointing out that when these things do occur, they may be expected to resemble some things that we can see already. We might consider these something like a "down-payment" or preview of the glory yet to come.
Similarly, our own pursuit of the consequences of redemption, which consists of self-renewal within the mindset of "the kingdom of heaven", is a down-payment of the glory for which we hope after our resurrection and the physical establishment of the kingdom that Messiah ben-David will rule from physical Jerusalem. If the renewal of the golden streets of Jerusalem is already glorious, already to be enjoyed now even before the ultimate glory that will come, so also may be our personal renewal as new creatures under messianic discipleship.
I should point out, however, that there is a practical side-effect of such renewal. One must also live with, and work around, areas of the city that seem to be continually under construction. So it is also with redemption via discipleship. We must accommodate ourselves to the present reality that one popular Christian biblical teacher of a half-century ago encapsulated in the phrase "Please Be Patient, God Isn't Finished With Me Yet". When the prophets wrote about the new Jerusalem whose streets were to be paved with gold, they made no mention of what it would look like while "still under construction".
Much of modern Israel is still under construction, and the traditional Jewish mitzvah of "tikkun ha'Olam" reminds us that the whole world is still very much in need of repairs. The parallel with modern disciples of haRav Yeshua ben-Yosef, both Jewish and non-Jewish ones, can't be missed.