Tale of Two Cities

An underlying theme in Revelation is the contrast and conflict between two “cities,” New Jerusalem and Babylon

City Sunrise - Photo by David Barajas on Unsplash
Book of Revelation often uses several terms and images to portray the same reality. For example, the people of God are called the “servants of God,” the “saints,” and the “brethren.” Churches are pictured as “lampstands,” priests, and the “two witnesses.” And the overarching cosmic conflict is presented by contrasting two very different “cities.” - [Photo by David Barajas on Unsplash].

The book communicates symbolically. Its symbols represent definite realities but are not themselves real. For this reason, Revelation often uses more than one image to picture the same thing, images that would be incompatible if its visions were literal. For example, the community of overcoming saints is both the “holy city” and the “bride of the Lamb.”

THE HOLY CITY. To the church in Philadelphia, Jesus promised to make overcoming saints “pillars in the sanctuary of my God” in the “city, New Jerusalem, that is descending from God” - (Revelation 3:12).

But before “New Jerusalem” descends from heaven as “bride without spot or wrinkle,” she must undergo persecution and bear witness to the “inhabitants of the earth.” Her “descent” is both a process and an event.

An angel commanded John to “measure” the “sanctuary,” the “altar,” and the priests who were “rendering divine service” in it to prepare “New Jerusalem” for habitation. But first, the “holy city” must be delivered to the “nations” to be “tread under foot forty-two months” - (Revelation 11:1-2).

The “two witnesses,” the “two lampstands,” represent the same reality. They give “testimony” over the same period until they are killed by the “beast,” and “lampstands” represent churches. Thus, the “holy city” is a metaphor for the church bearing witness and suffering persecution. The same attack is pictured again when Satan is released from the “Abyss” to gather all the nations “from the four corners of the earth” in a final attempt to destroy the “camp of the saints, the beloved city” - (Revelation 11:3-7, 20:9).

After the final judgment, John saw the “holy city…descending from heaven” to the earth. “Descending” represents the Greek verb in the present tense, which signifies an action in progress. Thus, he saw it in the process of “descending.” And the “city” appeared as a “bride adorned for her husband,” and was also called the “sanctuary of God,” a case of very mixed metaphors - (Revelation 21:1-9).

New Jerusalem” will be inhabited by the people of God, and He will “wipe away all their tears.” When the “city” descends to the earth, He will “make all things new,” thus, on some level, the “city” is also the New Creation, the “new heavens and the new earth.” It is the overcoming saints that will “inherit these things.”

The physical dimensions of the “city” are enormous. It lies “foursquare” with its length, width, and height measuring “twelve-thousand furlongs” in each direction, for its coterminous with the entire New Creation; creation and every redeemed soul is housed within its walls.

THE GREAT CITY. “Babylon” is introduced as the “great city,” where the “dead bodies” of the “two witnesses” were left lying for three days. It is called “spiritually, Sodom and Egypt,” where the “Lord was crucified.” Not only is it the place where the righteous are slain, but it is perpetually “unclean” because of the blood spilled on its streets and thoroughfares – (Revelation 11:9-13).

Later, an angel pronounced the fall of the “great city” – “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, for she has made all the nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Consequently, the “winepress” of God’s wrath was “trodden” underfoot outside her walls, producing “bloodas far as sixteen hundred furlongs,” another impossibly large figure. And just as the “nations trampled the holy city underfoot,” so, now, “Babylon” is “trodden” - (Revelation 14:8-20).

When the “seventh bowl of wrath” was emptied, the “great city” fell, along with the “cities of the nations…and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.” The verbal parallels make clear this vision portrays the same reality as the previous vision of the “winepress of God” that was “trod” outside the city’s walls.

It was at this time that “every island fled, and the mountains were not found,” as the entire earth was shaken and “great hail” fell upon the “inhabitants of the earth.” Effectively, “Babylon” was coterminous with the earth, for every “inhabitant of the earth” dwelt within her walls – (Revelation 16:19-21).

Next, John saw the “great city” portrayed as a whorish figure, in contrast to the “holy city,” the “bride of the Lamb.” She was “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” She was the one who seduced the “inhabitants of the earth” to commit “fornication” and idolatry, and she was “drunk with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.”
She was in the “wilderness,” the same place where God “nourished” the “woman clothed with the sun” after she produced the messianic “son” - The two cities occupy the same time and space - (Revelation 12:1-17, 17:1-6).

And “Babylon” was “sitting on waters,” which symbolizes “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.” She also was riding the “beast with ten horns,” for she was the “great city” that reigns over the “kings of the earth.” And the key to her influence was her economic control, for her power was dependent on global commerce - (Revelation 17:15-18:9).

However, contrary to her claims, Jesus is the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” not “Babylon.” He is the “son” who inherited sovereignty over them. Whatever the “kings of the earth” may intend, the “Lamb” is the “King of kings,” and he uses them to accomplish his purposes. Thus, they will learn to “hate the harlot” and will turn against her, and she will be “burned utterly with fire.” Thus, “one hour her judgment will comein one hour is she will be made desolate.

At the end, a “strong angel” will take a “great millstone” and cast it into the sea, and thus, “Babylon the great city, will be cast down and be found no more at all.” In contrast, the saints will dwell in “New Jerusalem” forevermore with the “Lamb” and the “one who sits on the throne.”

Thus, the “holy city” represents both the people of God and their final habitation in the “new heavens and the new earth.” In contrast, the “great city, Babylon” symbolizes humanity in its opposition to Jesus and his people, especially in the economic sphere, especially is also the power base and the chief weapon of the “beast from the sea.” Neither “city” is limited to a specific geographic location. “Babylon” holds sway wherever the “inhabitants of the earth” are found, and “New Jerusalem” encompasses the entire new earth after its “descent” from God.



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