In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis’s young heroes travel to the edge of the world and get a glimpse of Aslan’s country. Here’s how Lewis describes it:
What they saw—eastward, beyond the sun—was a range of mountains. . . . And the mountains must really have been outside the world. For any mountains even a quarter or a twentieth of that height ought to have had ice and snow on them. But these were warm and green and full of forests and waterfalls however high you looked.
Ezekiel 34:13–16, where Yahweh promises to dwell with his people:
I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. (Ezek. 34:14–15)
Yahweh’s description of these future mountains wasn’t meant to be confined to the imaginations of fictional writers. It was meant to be real. And as we’ll see, this imagery is hardly limited to Ezekiel 34.
Biblical Theology of Mountains
Salvation in the Old Testament is often viewed in spatial terms, meaning that salvation is found where Yahweh is present. And more often than not, Yahweh seems to be present and reveals himself to humanity on mountains.
Many Old Testament scholars have suggested that Eden was a mountain, since it was the source of a major river (Gen. 2:10). As a holy garden mountain, Eden was the prototypical mountain of redemptive history where God’s people were gathered from the outside (Gen. 2:15; cf. Ezek. 34:12–13), ate directly off the land (Gen. 2:16; cf. Ezek. 34:13–15), and rested in his presence prior to the fall (Gen. 3:8; cf. Ezek. 34:15).
Yahweh’s description of these future mountains wasn’t meant to be confined to the imaginations of fictional writers.
After the fall, the religious significance of mountains was tainted by sin, as was the rest of the cosmos. This may explain why most ancient civilizations centered divine worship on mountaintops (both natural and artificial). Not surprisingly, God’s redemptive plan to save the world also began to unfold on mountains.
God reveals himself to Abraham on a mountain, as Abraham demonstrates his willingness to sacrifice his one and only son Isaac (Gen. 22:1–14), pointing to the sacrifice God would one day make of his own Son. God reveals his redemptive plans to Moses on Mount Horeb (Ex. 3:1–2), pointing to time when he’d save his people once and for all from the slavery of sin. God reveals himself to the Israelites on Mount Sinai and gives Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex. 19–20), pointing to how he’d one day dwell with his covenant people in spirit and in truth (John 4:23–24).
Eden was the prototypical mountain of redemptive history where God’s people were gathered.
The land of Canaan only becomes the Promised Land because Yahweh determines to dwell there with his people—first in the hills of Shiloh (Josh. 18:1), then permanently on Mount Moriah at the site of the temple (2 Chron. 3:1). There the temple is intricately designed with garden themes (1 Kings 6:29), pointing to its continuity with Eden as Yahweh’s new dwelling place on earth.
Yahweh the Chief Shepherd
Due to rampant idolatry and covenant infidelity, though, the Spirit of Yahweh departs from the temple (Ezek. 10:18), bringing into question what the Promised Land was ultimately supposed to be. With the destruction of the temple and the exile of God’s people, Yahweh then prophesies about a land filled with lush mountains, green pastures, and ravines (Ezek. 34:13), echoing the language of Eden and of Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:17).
These mountains are his final dwelling place where he himself will gather his covenant people and be their shepherd (Ezek. 34:15). No more human judges, kings, or priests. Yahweh himself will judge, rule, and heal his sheep (Ezek. 34:16).
In the New Testament, Jesus identifies himself as the archetypical Chief Shepherd. He knows his sheep, and they know him (John 10:14; cf. Ezek. 34:16). He is the “good shepherd” who lays down his life for them (John 10:15; cf. Ezek. 34:12) and keeps the covenant as the promised descendant of David’s line (1 Sam. 7:8–16; cf. Rom. 5:18–19). He has more scattered sheep that aren’t in the Jewish fold whom he will gather (John 10:16; cf. Ezek. 34:13).
Feasting and Resting on Jesus
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is associated with mountains. He begins his ministry by defeating Satan on a mountain (Matt. 4:8; Luke 4:5; cf. Ezek. 34:12). He feeds his disciples the word of God on a mountain (Matt. 5:1; cf. Ezek. 34:14). He rests and communes with the Father on mountains (John 6:15; Matt. 14:23; Luke 6:12; cf. Ezek. 34:15). He’s transfigured on a mountain (Matt. 17:1–8; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36), crucified on a mountain (Matt. 27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33; John 19:17), proclaims the Great Commission on a mountain (Matt. 28:16), and ascends into heaven from a mountain (Acts 1:10–12).
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is associated with mountains.
As the Word of God in the flesh (John 1:1), God made his tabernacle among us through Jesus (John 1:14), fulfilling Yahweh’s prophecy in Ezekiel 34. Jesus is also the bread God provides for his people so they’ll never starve (John 6:35; Luke 22:20; cf. Ezek. 13–14). He’s the living water God provides for his people so they’ll never thirst (John 4:14; Luke 22:19; cf. Ezek. 13–14).
In short, Jesus is the true and better Promised Land—the fulfillment of the eschatological mountains of Israel—on which we feast and rest. To be in his presence is to be at our end-time home, since he is the true and better temple (John 2:19–22). The house of God becomes our home when Jesus takes up residence in us through his Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19–20; cf. Eph. 2:19–22).
As we await its final fulfillment, Jesus continues to use all believers to gather more of his scattered sheep, seek the lost, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak in order to fulfill the Great Commission (Ezek. 34:12, 16).
Reaching the Last Mountain
Looking to the future, we long for the consummation of our eschatological home. Like Eden, the New Jerusalem has a river flowing from it (Rev. 22:1), marking it as the final garden-temple-mountain of God. This mountain will have all we ever need. There will be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and we shall see his face (Rev. 22:3–4).
As it says in Isaiah 65:25, “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”