The Heavenly Mount Zion

The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there” (vv. 23–25).

- Revelation 21

Interpreting the prophets can be difficult because the rich imagery and poetic style that they typically employ raises interpretive questions. For example, are we to take the prophetic visions as describing the future in literal terms, figurative terms, or both?

The short answer is that it depends on the vision. For a fuller answer, we must turn to the New Testament and see how new covenant revelation points us to the proper interpretation of old covenant prophetic revelation. Regarding the specific prophecy of Micah 4:1–5, the New Testament seems to point us in the direction of reading Micah’s words as figurative in some ways and literal in others. Today’s passage clearly alludes to Micah’s prediction, for it includes imagery of kings—representing their nations and peoples—streaming to the heavenly Jerusalem descended to earth (Rev. 21:1–2, 24–25; see Mic. 4:1–2). Jerusalem, of course, is located on the mountain of the temple of the Lord, which means that the heavenly Mount Zion of Hebrews 12:22 must also descend to earth at the last day. Revelation 21:24 describes the nations walking by the light of the Lord, which is likely an allusion to Micah 4:2 and the nations going to the temple to learn to walk in God’s ways and enjoy the benefits of His law going forth. After all, the Old Testament describes the Word of God as a light that guides His people (Ps. 119:105).

So, the exaltation of God’s mountain in Micah 4:1–5 does not seem to predict a geographic upheaval that will make earthly Mount Zion the tallest mountain on earth according to its physical height. Does that mean that Micah’s words are only figurative? Not necessarily. There seems to be no real reason for the new Jerusalem to be located anywhere else in the new earth than its traditional location.

Micah used language familiar to his original audience when he prophesied. Biblical revelation builds on what came before, and at that stage in redemptive history, God’s people would not likely have understood Micah if he had spoken in explicit new covenant terms. That does not make his words less meaningful. For instance, Micah speaks of everyone having his own vine. This is an image of prosperity, because fruitful vineyards symbolized the Lord’s blessing and provided income to ancient Israelites (Mic. 4:4; see Deut. 8:7–9; 1 Kings 21:1–2; Isa. 36:16; Joel 2:22). Micah saw all people who follow the Lord as prospering in the last day, which John confirms in Revelation 21.

Coram Deo

We must always read the Old Testament in light of the new covenant revelation in Christ Jesus, the final Word of God to His people (Heb. 1:1–4). The nations have begun to go up to the temple of the Lord in going to Christ, God’s true temple (John 2:18–22), and this will be consummated when the heavenly Jerusalem descends to earth. Then, all of the redeemed will fulfill the purpose for which God made us as we worship Him forever.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 2:1–5
Malachi 1:11
Luke 24:36–49
Revelation 15:1–4

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343