Phil Coulson, Bible teacher, author and editor of the Believer’s Magazine, writes an enlightening and insightful article about the character, history and future of the world’s cities, in contrast to the “city of the great King”. A vital, counter-cultural read.
The first city ever built on earth was the city called Enoch, and it was built as a monument of rebellion against God. As a consequence of slaying his brother, and for his unrepentant spirit, Cain was consigned by God to a life of wandering. The ground would not sustain him, and he would have no place to settle. His response to that judgment was “he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch” (Gen 4:12-17). Man after the flesh will always seek to overthrow divine order, a fact that Cain exhibited in all his ways. Today, the majority of the world’s population live in cities, and many people have never seen the rural, garden conditions in which God intended man to dwell. City-building was the preoccupation of the first inhabitants of the new world, after the global flood, culminating in the construction of Babel, a temple-city that was a satanic counterfeit of the future temple-city of Zion. Babel was intended to be not only the centre of the world’s administration, requiring a king, but also to be the centre of the world’s worship, requiring a high priest. The man who planned to rule there, Nimrod, a violent, godless man, would thus be worshipped as a king-priest, a counterfeit of Christ, so God imposed a second global judgment, recorded in Genesis chapters 10 and 11.
The interested reader might now trace through Scripture the theme of man’s building and also observe how, in the modern world, individuals and nations seek to glorify themselves in the buildings and cities they construct. But the desperately solemn conclusion to man’s self-serving building programme is recorded by John the apostle:
“And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air…And there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and…every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (Rev 16:17-20).
That future global judgment will prepare the way for the establishment of “the city of our God” (Psa 48:1, 8). The Lord Jesus will return to the earth in power and great glory and “he shall build the temple of the Lord and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne and he shall be a priest upon his throne and the counsel of peace shall be between them both” (Zech 6:13).
Whereas every other city has reflected man’s rebellion, including (we might say “especially”) Jerusalem, “the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified” (Rev 11:8), the future city of Zion will be entirely for the glory of God and the blessing of man. Psalm 48 indicates:
- It will be God’s possession (“the city of our God”, v1)
- It will be ruled according to God’s principles (“the city of the great King”, v2)
- It will enjoy God’s presence (“God is known in her palaces”, v3), and
- It will be preserved by God’s power (“the city of the Lord of hosts”, v8)
Then, “In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; we have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee : because he trusteth in Thee” (lsa 26:1-3).
The earthly Zion will indeed be glorious but, just as the tabernacle and the temple were earthly representations of the heavenly original (Heb 9:24), so will be”the city of our God” in the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus. The ultimate will only be seen when, in “the day of God” (2 Pet 3:12), the vision given to John will be fulfilled, “the holy city, new Jerusalem” will come down from God out of heaven, and a great voice will declare “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men” (Rev 21:2-3).