Tale of Two Cities

A key theme in Revelation is the contrast and conflict between the two cities - New Jerusalem and Babylon, the Great WhoreThe Book of Revelation often uses several terms to portray the same reality. For example, the people of God are called the “servants of God,” the “saints,” and the “brethren.” Churches are represented by “lampstands” and the “Two Witnesses.” The overarching cosmic conflict between the “Dragon” and the “Lamb” is presented by comparing two very different “cities.”

Toronto Dawn - Photo by Yalın Kaya on Unsplash
[Photo by Yalın Kaya on Unsplash]

The Book communicates symbolically. Its symbols represent definite realities but are not themselves real. For that reason, it often uses more than one image to picture the same thing, images that become incompatible if we insist that its visions are literal.

For example, the community of overcoming saints is described as the “Holy CityAND the “bride of the Lamb.” To the Assembly in Philadelphia, Jesus promises to make overcoming saints “pillars in the Sanctuary of my God” in the “City, New Jerusalem that is descending from God” - (Revelation 3:12).

However, before “New Jerusalem” descends as a “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 preparation for the city to be inhabited. But first, the “Holy City” must be handed over to the “nations” and “tread upon for forty-two months” - (Revelation 11:1-2).

The “Two Witnesses” and the “Two Lampstands” represent the same reality. The “Witnesses” testify over the same period of “forty-two months” until they are killed by the “Beast from the Sea,” and in the Book, “lampstands” represent individual assemblies.

Thus, the “Holy City” is a metaphor for the church as it bears witness and suffers persecution, among other things. The same attack against the saints is pictured again when Satan is released from the “Abyss” to gather all the nations “from the four corners of the Earth” in his final attempt to annihilate 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.” The Greek term translated as “descending” represents a verb in the present tense, signifying an action in progress. Thus, John saw the City in the process of “descending” to the Earth.

The “City” appeared as a “Bride adorned for her husband,” and was also called the “Sanctuary of God,” an example of mixed metaphors being applied to the one people of God. The City called “New Jerusalem” is intended to be inhabited by the people of God, and He will “wipe away all their tears.” When it descends to the Earth, He will “make all things new” - (Revelation 21:1-9).

Thus, on some level, the “Holy City” is identical to the New Creation, the “New Heavens and the New Earth.” It will be inhabited by the overcoming saints who 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. It is coterminous with the New Creation, and every redeemed soul is housed within its walls.

New Jerusalem” is immense since it is coterminous with the “New Earth,” plus it is designed to be inhabited by an innumerable multitude of saints redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb.”


Babylon” is introduced as the “Great City,” the place where the “dead bodies” of the “Two Witnesses” are left lying for three days. It is described as “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 because it is the dwelling place of demons – (Revelation 11:9-13). Later, an angel pronounces 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 is “trodden” underfoot outside her walls, producing “blood…as far as sixteen-hundred furlongs,” another impossibly large figure. Just as the “nations trampled the Holy City underfoot,” so, “Babylon” is “trodden” down in judgment and retribution - (Revelation 14:8-20).

When the “Seventh Bowl of Wrath” was emptied, the “Great City, Babylon” 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 demonstrate that this vision portrays the same reality as the previous vision of the “winepress of God” that was “trodden” outside the City’s walls.

It was at this moment when “every island flees, and the mountains are 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 since every “Inhabitant of the Earth” dwelt within her walls – (Revelation 16:19-21).

Next, John saw the “Great City” 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 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.” Thus, for a time, the two cities occupied the same time and space - (Revelation 12:1-17, 17:1-6).

Moreover, John saw “Babylon sitting on many waters,” an image that symbolized “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.” She also rode the “Beast with ten horns” since she was the “Great City” that reigned over the “Kings of the Earth.” The key to her influence was her economic control, and her power over the nations was dependent on global commerce - (Revelation 17:15-18:9).


However, contrary to her claims, Jesus is the true “Ruler of the Kings of the Earth,” not “Babylon.” He is the “son” who inherits sovereignty over the nations, indeed, over the Cosmos. 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 in the end, they will turn against her, and she will be “burned utterly with fire.” Therefore, “in one hour her judgment will come… in one hour is she will be made desolate.”

At the end of Babylon’s reign, a “strong angel” took a “great millstone” and cast it into the Sea, and so, “Babylon, the Great City, was cast down and found no more at all.” In contrast, the saints will dwell in “New Jerusalem” forevermore with the “Lamb.”

The “Holy City of New Jerusalem” represents both the people of God and their final habitation in the “New Heavens and the New Earth” where they will live forevermore. In contrast, the “Great City, Babylon” symbolizes humanity in its opposition to Jesus and his people, especially in the economic sphere though not exclusively so. Her inevitable end will be utter destruction.

Neither “city” is limited to a specific geographical location. “Babylon” holds sway wherever the “Inhabitants of the Earth” are located. Likewise, the Holy City of “New Jerusalem” will encompass the entire New Earth after it completes its “descent” from Heaven to the Earth.




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