The City of God

“And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” —Revelation 21:10

THE three illustrations of a tabernacle, a city, and a river, used by our Lord in both the 46th Psalm and the last two chapters of Revelation, give us a further insight into God’s plan for mankind. The illustration of a city is found not only in these specific scriptures but also elsewhere in God’s Word. The first use of such an illustration, although it is not readily apparent, is in the Genesis account of Abraham’s life and his experiences. It is the Apostle Paul who calls attention to this when, upon listing the Old Testament heroes of faith, he says: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the Land of Promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.”—Heb. 11:8-10

In Genesis 11:31, 32 and 12:1-8, we read that Abraham left a city, called Ur of the Chaldees, to go to another land. As we have noted from the Apostle Paul’s explanation, he also went in quest of another city, in the land of Canaan, at God’s invitation. His family was with him; his father, Terah, died en route. Abraham completed the journey with his wife, Sarah, and his nephew, Lot, and Lot’s family. Both Abraham and Lot had servants also. They lived in tabernacles (tents), which were temporary abodes.

Eventually strife between the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot made it necessary for them to part company. Abraham gave Lot the first choice of the land, and Lot chose the plain of Jordan. He pitched his tents in the direction of Sodom, a city in that plain. Before long, Lot moved into Sodom, taking up permanent residence there. Hence, Lot was successful in finding another city. (See Genesis 13:1-13 and 14:12.) On the other hand, Abraham continued to live in the hills of Canaan, in the plain of Mamre, and his abode was in tents. However, he also continued looking for a city, but not an ordinary city. Abraham looked for a city whose designer and architect is God. He did not find that city during all his sojourn in Canaan. But his faith was strong and he believed that one day he would find it.

In the Bible a city pictures a government. Abraham was looking for an earthly arrangement. But in the Book of Hebrews the Apostle Paul makes two references to a city, which is the same city, or government—but the spiritual phase of it. The first reference follows a description of the terrifying scene observed by Israel (and Moses) at Mount Sinai at the receiving of the tables of Law. Then, speaking to the Lord’s people of the Early Church (and all who followed down to our time at the end of the age), Paul says, “But ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.” (Heb. 12:22) Notice that we, like Abraham, are spoken of as approaching “unto the city of the living God.” Later, Paul also mentions, “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”—Heb. 13:14

From this last statement we can see how different the experiences of Abraham and Lot were. Abraham never found in this world the city he sought; likewise, we do not either. Lot, on the other hand, did. The experiences of Abraham, therefore, should remind us of our experiences as pilgrims, strangers, or sojourners, on this earth. As Abraham lived in temporary abodes (tents), so also we have no “abiding” city here, but we “seek one,” a permanent abode. As Abraham had faith and sought this city, so also we have faith and seek the city of God. This was also true of Jesus, who had no permanent abode upon earth, no place he could truly call home. Jesus said to a certain scribe: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20) Later he said to his disciples: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”—John 14:2,3

When we reach this “place,” we will come to our permanent abode. In a sense, we will have found the city of God, because a city represents a permanent abode. It contains solid, permanent structures, so unlike the tents of the nomads, which are portable and temporary.

A city was meant to express more than merely the concept of permanence. In the Bible, as mentioned earlier, it also represents a government, or a kingdom. Cities of old were nations in themselves. They had walls and were self-sufficient. Some of the great cities of ancient times were Babylon, Athens, and Rome. The city was representative of the nation. The power and might of the land flowed from the city.

Little information is available in the Scriptures about the very early cities, such as the one Cain built (Gen. 4:17) or those Nimrod built. (Gen. 10:10) We do know that one of the cities built by Nimrod was the site of the great city Babylon. In its glory, Babylon had walls reported to be 300 feet high, extending for 60 miles around the city. It was famous for its iron gates and hanging gardens (thought to be terraced gardens). Cities, at first, were intended to be centers for special services and trades, and for government. They were not intended as dwelling places, because most people were involved in agriculture and were self-sufficient. As man multiplied, some of the people began to live in cities; and then cities became centers of power and ruled the surrounding area of the land in which they were located. It did not avail an enemy much if he conquered the land surrounding the city. The city itself had to be conquered for victory to be complete, and only then could it be said that the land had been taken. The real seat of government, power, and authority resided in the city. The walls of the city were formidable protection. Knowing this, we can understand the use of an illustration by Solomon in Proverbs 25:28, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” A city without walls was an easy prey for the enemy. Likewise, anyone unable to control his emotions is an easy prey for his enemies (the flesh, the world, and the Adversary) and can be overrun by them.

God has used many symbols in the Scriptures to help us understand spiritual truths. Among these is the symbol of a city, to represent a government. The first universal empire was Babylon. Babylonia was the actual name of the vast territorial holdings possessed by this empire. The seat of government, however, was in the city of Babylon, one of the largest and most elaborate cities of ancient times. Its hanging gardens were among the wonders of the ancient world. Because it was such a prominent city and because it was associated with this present evil world, God used Babylon as a symbol of the apostate church system, which ruled the prominent nations of the Western world. Hence the empire of Babylonia has been employed as a symbol of Christendom, especially during the Dark Age period of the Gospel Age.

On the other hand, God chose Jerusalem, a small city in the land of Canaan, to represent the city of God. Jerusalem became the capital of Judea, and it was there that all the special observances and Sabbaths of the Jewish nation were celebrated. It was built upon four hills: Zion, Acra, Moriah, and Bezetha. Zion, however, was the most prominent of these, and so Jerusalem was also often called Zion. Compared with Babylon, Jerusalem was small and insignificant, not known for any spectacular works except that it belonged to Israel. Its walls were not very high and only a little more than 4 miles in length (compared with Babylon’s 60 miles). Jerusalem was plundered so frequently during Israel’s history that its possession became a symbol of hope for Israel. The hope of Israel’s becoming a great nation lay in their possession of Jerusalem as a first requirement. It was God who gave Israel both the land of Canaan and the city of Jerusalem. The continued possession of these and the blessings they sought as a great nation were dependent upon their keeping God’s laws. God’s favor, then, became associated with the possession of this city. It might seem strange that God would select Jerusalem from all the cities of the earth to represent important features of his plan. But this is so. Jerusalem was used in a number of ways to bring us spiritual truths. It is associated with the Grace Covenant, with the church, and with the hope of natural Israel.

In Galatians, the 4th chapter, the Apostle Paul, in describing the covenants of God, uses Hagar and Sarah, wives of Abraham, as illustrations of these covenants. Later he selects Jerusalem to further emphasize his lesson. The lesson involves bringing forth seed, or nations, based on the promises (and covenants) of God. “Which things are allegorical; for these represent two covenants; one indeed from Mount Sinai, breeding children for servitude;—that is Hagar. Now Hagar signifies Sinai—(a mountain in Arabia,)—and it corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in bondage with her children. But the exalted Jerusalem represents the freewoman, who is our mother.” (Gal. 4:24-26, Diaglott) Thus, the two covenants, the Law and the Grace Covenants, were pictured by Jerusalem, earthly and spiritual. The then present Jerusalem of the scripture was a fitting picture of the Law Covenant, whose seed were in bondage, because as a city it was so often besieged and in captivity. The Roman armies under Titus so thoroughly devastated this city that it seemed unlikely that Israel would ever occupy it again after the first century. Today, however, Israel is back in Jerusalem again, but it continues to be besieged by enemies.

The heavenly Jerusalem, consisting of Jesus and his glorified church, is to govern and direct the affairs of men on earth. This city, which pictures God’s government upon earth, is unlike the illustration of the typical Tabernacle, to which all imperfect men and those not as yet made righteous could approach. Rather, those who gain entrance into this city as subjects, to become permanent residents, will be perfect, righteous men.

The reason for using the Tabernacle as an illustration for the mediatorial work is that this work is temporary. There will come a time when there are no longer any imperfect and unrighteous men. Then the need for the mediatorial function will have ended. It would be incorrect for anyone to think that the work of bringing mankind up to perfection is an endless task. There is an end to that work and a completion of God’s initial purpose of filling the earth with perfect, righteous human beings.

We are most thankful that God has given us the privilege of knowing his plan, because we can see the wonderful outcome. We see the beneficent purposes of God’s kingdom being accomplished, bringing the end of suffering and dying. The ultimate objective of that kingdom is fitly pictured by the glorious city of God.

The description of this city is found in Revelation 21:10-27. There are many noteworthy features, all having a meaning. The city had twelve foundations, representing the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb. (vs. 14) There were twelve gates. (vs. 12) These were probably patterned after the twelve tribes of spiritual Israel as described in Revelation 7:3-8. Jesus told his disciples that in the regeneration they would have ‘a wonderful position. “And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”—Matt. 19:28

The dimensions of the city, described in height, breadth, and length as being equal (a perfect cube), were likewise patterned after the number twelve, or multiples thereof. The size of the city is given as 12,000 furlongs and it had a wall of 144 cubits. Exactly how these dimensions relate to features of God’s plan may be viewed differently by different students of the Bible. The number of the church class has been designated as 144,000 in Revelation 7:4.

A most beautiful city is described. The materials used in its construction were the precious metals and jewels of the earth, reminding us that the church is the treasure brought forth from this earth. This city is pictured as a beautiful city because God wants us to know that the kingdom will be beautiful. As beautiful things are admired, so all men will admire the righteous government pictured by this city, because it will fulfill their desires. This new righteous government will make this planet earth a beautiful place so that all will be glad to dwell there.

As cities of old had definite features, such as walls, temple, light, so also such features were described for this city. The walls, although beautiful, were not named in Revelation. However, we find in Isaiah a similar description of this same city (Isa. 60:14), and there the Lord tells us that the walls shall be called “Salvation,” and the gates, “Praise.”—(Isa. 60:18) This is most appropriate. Those who come within its walls are truly saved; and when entering through its gates, they will give praise to God.

We are also told that there was no temple in this city: “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” (Rev. 21:22) This, too, is significant. It reminds us of the words of the prophets: “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:34) “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14) Also the words of the Apostle Paul: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (I Tim. 2:3,4) With one harmonious voice we are told how God will be known by all men. Hence, there will no longer be confusing church denominations, all vying with one another to have men come to their temples. Temples as symbols of worship will not be needed. Hence they will not exist because of the complete knowledge of God.

The light of that city will likewise be the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb: “And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” (Rev. 21:23) The Prophet Isaiah also tells us: “The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.” (Isa. 60:19) However, rather than leave the impression that the sun (used to picture the New Covenant) will no longer shine, nor the moon (a picture of the Law Covenant) be needed, Isaiah continues, saying, “Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.” (vs. 20) The thought is that these two great natural lights of earth are used in symbol to represent a knowledge of God’s word, which will then be fully understood, because God, through his Holy Spirit, will illume all the inhabitants of earth.

The verses of Revelation 21:24-26 describe those who enter the city: “And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.” The impression might be given that the present nations and kings of earth as we know them today will bring their glory into this city. But we know that the glory of this present sinful world has no place in this city to come. This is clearly shown in the following passages: “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev. 21:27) “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” (Rev. 22:14,15) In Isaiah 60:11,12 the description of those entering is as follows: “Therefore thy gates shall be open continually, they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.”

In God’s wonderful kingdom all will have to obey his righteous laws or perish. The purpose of giving an opportunity for life to all men in the resurrection is that they can be restored to the image of God. During the Millennial Age, as the people walk up the highway of holiness towards perfection, they will have varying lengths of journey. But as they walk, light from the city will guide them so they can enter in. Not until all the willing and obedient of mankind have been brought to perfection and stand in the “glorified” condition of God’s image (perfect morally and mentally, and capable of having dominion as kings) will they be able to enter into this city. This, then, is the “glory” that the nations and kings bring into the city. Isaiah 60:21 states the matter well: “Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.”

A city represents a permanent home—in this case, a permanent place in God’s kingdom. So Abraham will he resurrected from the dead and will find a permanent place in the earthly phase of the kingdom, the city he sought so diligently. He, along with all the other ancient worthies, will be used of God (guided by The Christ) to help his own direct progeny, Israel, and all men of earth to enter into God’s kingdom and find their permanent place forever and ever. Praise be to God for his plan of salvation.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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