I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2 RSV).
The holy city referred to here is neither gleaming office towers nor decayed inner city. It doesn’t belong to the ancient world buried beneath sand dunes or to the modern world often clouded by the haze of pollution.
It isn’t marked by human genius nor scarred by human depravity. Its splendor owes nothing to man; it is The City of God.
Humans, wherever they have gone, have organized into communities. Their building and organizational skills have come to a peak in the building of modern cities.
Ancient Petra and Babylon, and modern San Francisco, Toronto, London, Atlanta — these highly developed communities proclaim across history the genius of their creators.
Yet ancient cities have fallen one-by-one, sacked by enemies, corrupted by inhabitants, or emptied by the vagaries of history. It is possible the same will happen to modern cities.
The Bible has a complex or complicated attitude toward cities. Jesus loved Jerusalem and also wept over it in great tenderness, then pronounced destruction upon it.
It was his city, the place of the patriarchs and prophets, and it had known great moments. But it was known as well for its stoning of the prophets.
Then this city that God had uniquely honoured, Jerusalem, had demonstrated the peak of human pride in rejecting his Son.
While the Bible begins its story of man in a garden, it ends in a city, “the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2).
The vision of this special holy city, given to John on the Isle of Patmos, is rapturous, and the Book of Revelation speaks of its splendor.
This last book of the Bible communicates in what some have called cartoon language. For example, in our times a cartoonist, to represent tensions between Russia and China, might simply sketch out a picture of a bear being threatened by a red dragon.
The Book of Revelation is filled with verbal pictures – four-headed beasts, angels with vials, and cities like the New Jerusalem.
The message we are intended to get is that in his time, God will provide the perfect community for those who belong to him. Paul calls it “the Jerusalem which is above” (Gal. 4:26), and “our commonwealth . . . in heaven” (Php. 3:20) RSV).
It is the city toward which Abraham was ultimately heading, “the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10 NEB). It represents the eternal dwelling place of God and His people.
Today, many cities of man are under a cloud, if not a cloud heavy with sulphur dioxide as in some cases, then a threatening cloud from a dirty bomb or even the death of throngs by a murderous truck driver.
To many “lost” people it’s a place of physical decay and human despair, or even a kind of hell without flames. Yet, many leaders keep a proud silence about God and grope only on the horizontal plane for solutions to their troubles.
Even so, Christ wept over a city ruled by such attitudes, and he healed people in its dirty streets. Will he do less for God’s people? And they, in turn for others?
Everywhere there are needs that compassionate Christians can meet, despair they can work to relieve, boredom they can help to replace with meaning. In many decaying cities, small corps of Christians help relieve such problems.
But, here’s the paradox. Christians serve best with compassion in the city of man when we are convinced at every level of our beings that our true destination is the New Jerusalem, the eternal city of God.