In the New Testament, terms with political and civic meaning are used to describe heaven. The company of heaven–the saints, martyrs, and angels–are a society of individuals whose King is the Lord God Himself. Already in the Old Testament Yahweh, the true God, is known as the King of the people of Israel. When Israel desires a human king, Samuel the prophet with great reservations grants them one at the behest of God Himself (I Samuel 8). Since Yahweh is King, no other should fill this office; but, a concession is made to the people of Israel in their stubbornness. Before King Saul, Israel was ruled by leaders called judges.
When Jesus comes announcing the Gospel, He tells His hearers, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1: 16 ESV) God is the King of His people. On the cross the INRI (Latin) appeared as a statement of the charge against Jesus that He pretended to be the King of the Jews, an act of treason against the Roman government. The letters of the titulus crucis, that is, “the title of the cross,” mean “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Before His death, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy from the prophet Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9: 9 ESV).
In Revelation Jesus is opposed by the beast who is represented by the kings of the earth. The text reads, “They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lord’s and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17: 14 ESV) Heaven is described as the holy city, the new Jerusalem. It is in the End at the time of judgment that the chosen of God, still living on earth, will be separated from the condemned, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 25, where He is described as the King who presides over the nations. Until then the sheep and the goats dwell mingled together.
Political imagery, then, is commonly used in the New Testament for the society of heaven and also for the Christian pilgrims on earth. Peter writes that Christians are God’s people and a holy nation (I Peter 2: 9). They are also exiles and sojourners (I Peter 2: 11) in relation to the places where they live. Their true home is elsewhere, namely the heavenly kingdom. The Christian folk live among those who are not elect (I Peter 1: 1). It is notable that they will not be separated out until the kingdom of God comes in its fulness.
It is true that the Church exists throughout history; but, the separation of the City of God and the City of Man is not so clear-cut in this world. Even in the Church there are those who will not be saved. And, in our everyday existence, the two cities interrelate. However, at the end all will be made clear, and the two cities will be separated. The City of God on earth will be united with the City in heaven.
While we await the End that could happen tomorrow or in ten thousand years, we witness to the faith among those who are inhabitants of the City of Man so that they may join the City of God. Our witness and apology of the faith are no less than God’s project for the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Michael G. Tavella
The Name of Jesus
January 1, 2024