From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology, by T. Desmond Alexander. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2009. 210 pages.
T. Desmond Alexander is senior lecturer in biblical studies and director of postgraduate studies at Union Theological College in Belfast. He had been director of Christian Training for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland for 10 years. Previously, he lectured for 18 years in Semitic Studies at the Queen’s University of Belfast. He is the chairman of the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical and Theological Research, and he served as co-editor of The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology and The NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible. Alexander has authored several Old Testament commentaries and many volumes in the area of biblical theology.
One might wonder about the term “biblical theology,” since it is also in the sub-title of this book. Of course, all theology should be biblical theology; however, throughout the book Alexander focuses more on themes throughout Scripture as opposed to doctrinal points. To put it another way, biblical theology tends to be inductive. It looks for the Spirit’s progressive revelation in Christ from Genesis to Revelation. Systematic theology is more non-temporal and deductive.
In contrast to systematic theology, D.A. Carson writes: “Biblical theology . . . seeks to uncover and articulate the unity of all the biblical texts taken together, resorting primarily to the categories of those texts themselves.” It assumes that despite its many human authors and various genres, the whole Bible tells an unfolding, unified story, centering in Christ, to God’s eternal glory.
Alexander’s volume about biblical theology fits that mold beautifully. It is a little book with a big aim. Alexander begins, “Why does the earth exist? What is the purpose of human life? Arrogant as it may seem, this short book attempts to answer both of these questions. It does so by exploring a unique story” (9).
Alexander originally planned to teach a short course on Revelation 20–22 so Christians would understand life after death. This book followed, so he could more fully show the many links between Genesis 1–3 and Revelation 20–22. Alexander realized: “(1) the biblical description of our future existence has more in common with our present life than most people assume; (2) the concluding chapters of Revelation offer a window through which the main themes of the biblical meta-story may be studied” (7).
Alexander frames his book with an introduction and conclusion, and he includes both a bibliography over eight pages and Scripture references from 55 of the Bible’s 66 books.
Besides his introduction and conclusion, his chapters are:
2. From sacred garden to holy city: experiencing the presence of God
3. Thrown from the throne: re-establishing the sovereignty of God
4. Dealing with the devil: destroying the source of evil
5. The slaughter of the Lamb: accomplishing the redemption of creation
6. Feasting from the tree of life: reinvigorating the lives of people from every nation
7. Strong foundations and solid walls: living securely among the people of God
Just as the book’s title says, Chapter 2 walks readers through references to God’s presence with his people from the Garden of Eden to the new Jerusalem. Alexander unpacks the Bible’s meta-story—one of his favorite terms—by showing temple imagery in the opening chapters of Genesis. He leads readers from Israel’s wilderness tabernacle to the first and second Jerusalem temples. He includes pertinent details from Israel’s prophets. John 2:21, of course, says that the real temple on earth Jesus spoke of was his own body. After Pentecost, in Christ, the church is God’s temple. Alexander notes, “Whereas in the Old Testament God was perceived as dwelling among his people, in the New Testament he is viewed as dwelling within his people” (69).
Because of what Christ said to us and suffered for us, at the same time, “we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14), where God will dwell with us and we will dwell with him. We will reign with Christ as the viceroys Adam and Eve were meant to be.
How big was the original Garden of Eden God told our first parents to rule over? We do not know. Alexander figures that garden was meant gradually, bountifully, to expand, as Adam and Eve’s growing family filled it and tended it.
Should we picture the new Jerusalem, size-wise, as a little garden? A city park? A huge national park? Far bigger, Alexander suggests. Don’t think of even the biggest cities on earth today. Alexander wants us to picture a garden city expanding to the ends of the earth: “Revelation 21–22 anticipates a new earth dominated by a golden city of immense proportions in which God resides” (69).
One might wonder: Is Alexander a premillennialist? Postmillennialist? The book gave evidence of neither. From Eden to the New Jerusalem is full of gospel-centered, Christ-glorifying hope.
Rather than providing a more chapter-by-chapter details (find more in this fine review), I would like to share how I became familiar with the book: Recently I read and discussed it weekly over the phone, chapter-by-chapter, with Bright Pembeleka, pastor of Beautiful Saviour Lutheran Church in Blantyre, Malawi, as part of his studies for a Master’s degree in theology from the Pastoral Studies Institute of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.
We chose the book because Pastor Pembeleka had written to me, “It has been my plan to study Old Testament theology ever since I joined GRATSI, now CLI. The reason has been that when I have full knowledge of Old Testament, then I will be able to preach and teach New Testament well.”
Did we find any drawbacks in the book? A few. We were confused by Alexander’s brief explanation of how the Lord’s Supper sanctifies us (134), and we wished he had not merely written, “the bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ, the Passover Lamb” (134).
Beyond that, we were so encouraged by our book discussion and so drawn to the book’s organization, clarity, and vision of our final destination in Christ that when I double-checked with Pastor Pembeleka about a comment to me from a previous week, that From Eden to the New Jerusalem was one of the best books he had ever read, he said, “No. It is the best book I have ever read.” He meant that because of the way it clarifies so many Scriptural themes and ties together the Old Testament and the New Testament so simply and so well.
Perhaps, like us, one would like to study Alexander’s book with another pastor? Or might one use it as a basis for a series of congregational Bible studies? It could be especially valuable if one serves a group of believers who mistakenly think that our main aim in Christ is non-material. “Let’s leave this wicked world. Let’s go to heaven! Isn’t that where our hope ends?”
Except for preaching Christ, isn’t everything else we do in a perishing world pointless? Not in the resurrected Lamb. We are his royal priests. If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. When he reappears, with Christ, as our first parents were supposed to, we will forever reign.
Permit a closing quote on that note not from T. Desmond Alexander but from N.T. Wright, based on 1 Corinthians 15:58. Therefore, in Christ, our resurrected King, the man who did all that Adam failed to do and died for all our sins on the cross, “… what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.”
 D. A. Carson, “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000) p. 100.
For more, see 3 Ways to Define Biblical Theology.
 For more, see Andreas Köstenberger, The Promise of Biblical Theology: What Biblical Theology Is and Isn’t. You can also listen to much of the same information as a 14:31 podcast.
 Though dwarfed in population by major metro areas in the United States, Sitka, Alaska is the largest U.S. city by area, over 2,870 square miles.
Until it split on December 31, 2017, Qaasuitsup (Greendlandic for “the place of polar darkness”) in northwest Greenland was the world’s largest municipality, with an area (over 254,000 square miles) larger than France (over 248,000 square miles). We look for a place warmer, brighter, and far bigger.
 N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 208–209.