If God is your father, then who is your mother? No one, you say? Well, God tells us something different in Galatians 4:26"But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother." "The Jerusalem that is above," Paul tells us, is the "mother" of God's children. But what is "the Jerusalem that is above"?
It can't be the physical city of Jerusalem, for Galatians 4:25-26 says:
Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.
"The present city of Jerusalem," then, contrasts sharply with "the Jerusalem that is above."
It also can't be some future Jerusalem. Note the present tense verbs: "The Jerusalem that is above...is our mother." This Jerusalem is a reality that exists right now.
But if it's not physical Jerusalem, and if it's not some future Jerusalem, then what is it? Galatians 4:27 gives us a clue by citing Isaiah 54:1
"For it is written: 'Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.' "
The context of that verse is telling. Isaiah 53 predicts Christ's redeeming work. Isaiah 55 sounds the gospel call of God's grace in Christ
"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (vs. 1).
Right in between, in that context, Isaiah 54 anticipates the worldwide spread of God's people that will result from Christ's redeeming work:
Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband, says the LORD. Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husbandthe LORD Almighty is his namethe Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. (vss.1-5)
The Christ will suffer humiliation and then be exalted. Then the wife of the Maker will enlarge her tent. She will cover the whole earth with the children she bears her Husband. This wife of the Maker is the mother of God's children.
Galatians 4:26 says that this mother of God's children is "the Jerusalem that is above." Hebrews 12:22 also confirms this reality for Christian believers"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God." This spiritual, heavenly Jerusalem is the wife of the Maker. She is the woman of Revelation 12, the woman who gives birth to the Christ (vs. 5; cf. Ps. 2). And then, after he ascends to God and his throne (vs. 5), she gives birth to other children "who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (vs. 17).
God discloses the identity of this womanthis heavenly Jerusalemin Revelation 21:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.... One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (vss. 2, 9-10).
In short, this Jerusalem is the bride of Christ. And the bride of Christ is the church. Therefore, this Jerusalem is the church. And if the church is Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is the mother of God's children, then the church is the mother of God's children. And that's what Galatians 4:26 teaches.
Now this is a heavenly reality, but it manifests itself on earth in the visible church. This is why God's Word can speak of local, visible churches in this way: "The elder, to the chosen lady and her children ... The children of your chosen sister send their greetings" (2 John 1, 13). The "chosen lady" and her "chosen sister" were local churches. Their "children" were the members of these local churches.
This is underscored by verse 10: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him." The elect lady ("you"), the church, is not to harbor false teachers or false teaching.
The mother of God's redeemed children is the church. She is the bride which our Redeemer loves with everything that is in him, and she is your mother. Honor your mother.
The author is the general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2001.