Cities and The New Jerusalem
Cities tells an interesting story in Scripture. Once access to the garden was cut off in Genesis 3, men moved further from God. One of the features of this movement is the building of cities. After God gave Cain a mark of protection, Cain built a city (Gen 4:17). In Genesis 10, the city of Nineveh is built and it is called “the great city” (vv. 11-12). This city became the capital of Assyria, that fierce and wicked nation who devoured Israel. While Jonah’s preaching had them repenting for a time, it did not last.
Next, Genesis 11 shows the people building a city with the tower at Babel. This is Babylon, a name that comes to stand for everything that is against God. It is the city where the people of God were exiled, and from which they came out to return home. In Revelation, Babylon is called “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations” (Rev 17:5). It would fall as God’s people are vindicated.
Back in Genesis, we can add terrible cities like Sodom and Gomorrah. These cities were filled with wickedness, and God brought judgment against them. We begin to see a pattern of cities representing the movement away from God and deeper into sin. Cities become a residence of wicked people in Scripture, and they are judged for it. We note here that there are individuals within cities that can be redeemed (e.g., Acts 18:9-10); Lot was given the opportunity. Yet the pattern we see relative to cities starts to come into focus.
The basic idea is that cities equal “bad” in the first part of Scripture. Cities become a cluster of people who band together to do wicked things. Even today, certain cities are often noted for bad things. In Scripture, this will change, however, because God had a plan for reversal to be carried out in Christ. This reversal is not for all cities in general, but for one in particular.
As God chose his people, He also chose a city as the place where He would put His name and give His people a beacon of hope. Jerusalem is that place, and this place became a type of an even greater city. As Israel was still in its kingship infancy, Jerusalem was captured by David and turned into the capital city. It is the location where the temple was built by Solomon. The temple was considered to be God’s dwelling, so the idea of God dwelling where He put His name is significant. “The Lord is there.”
This is one reason why the sins of Manasseh were so egregious. 2 Kings 21 explicitly mentions Jerusalem in this context of Manasseh reversing Hezekiah’s reforms and erecting altars for Baal and Asherah. He also worshipped the host of heaven and served them. So terrible were his deeds that the author sees Jerusalem shamed over it. “And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, ‘In Jerusalem will I put my name’” (2 Kings 21:4). The sins were a direct affront to God because this was the city God chose to be holy, but it was turned into another city of the world. This means judgment.
For all the bad that we see in cities, the theme of Scripture relative to cities shows redemption. Just as Babylon represents the evil standing against God, so Jerusalem, Zion, is redeemed as that holy city of God. By the end of Revelation, however, it is not the old city of Jerusalem, but the “new Jerusalem” that is in view: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). This new Jerusalem is identified as God’s people rather than the physical place. New Jerusalem is adorned as a bride for her husband. God dwells with his people and there is no more pain. Whereas cities were consistently bad, now the greatest city of all, the new Jerusalem, God’s people, is vindicated as the greatest.
This “New Jerusalem” has the glory of God. There is no need of a temple “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev 21:22). The glory of God gives its light, and into this city comes the glory and honor of the kings of the nations. The gates are open, and nothing evil enters into it. In this city, the tree of life is once again found with its leaves for the healing of the nations. There is no curse. The throne of God and the Lamb are there, and God’s people not only serve Him, but they reign with Him.
Even Abraham was “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). Indeed, God has prepared the lasting city (v. 16). This is why Christians need to maintain their proper focus on Jesus and His kingdom rather than on the world. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14). I pray that we all seek to be part of this great, lasting city.