The first city mentioned in the Scriptures was that built by Cain, and named after his son Enoch, Gen. 4. 17. His great, great, great grandson Lamech was a man as undisciplined and violent as Cain himself, and in his godless tradition. In Lamech’s own sons a godless civilisation developed; in Jabal, nomadic pastoral life, “he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle”, v. 20; in Jubal, cultural life, “he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ”, v. 21; in Tubal-cain, industrial life — he was “the sharpener of every cutting instrument of brass and iron”, v. 22 marg. Doubtless it was by the use of weapons forged by Tubal-cain that Lamech was enabled to redress the disadvantage of age against youth, “I have slain a man for wounding me, and a young man for bruising me”, v. 23 marg. It was an inauspicious start for a city, and that generation was doomed to perish in the flood for its wickedness and violence, ch. 6.
Babel, the city which men purposed to build “lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth”, 11. 4, was not destined to be finished; men proposed, but God disposed. God saw their venture as the beginning of a great evil, and stopped it so that “they left off to build the city”, v. 8. God said, “this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do”, v. 6. It was yet another unpropitious undertaking. Likewise the city of Sodom became a synonym for licentiousness, ch. 19.
But these early disastrous attempts at city life did not disprove that God had a purpose in it. Zion is spoken of as “the city of God”, Psa. 46. 4; “the city of the great king”, 48. 2; cf. Matt. 5. 35, of which “Glorious things are spoken”, Psa. 87. 3. Its citizens would be of consequence, “of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her … The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there”, vv. 5, 6. “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion”, v. 2.
In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul drew a distinction between “Jerusalem which is now” and “Jerusalem which is above”, 4. 25, 26. The writer to the Hebrews describes the latter as “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem”, whose citizens “are written in heaven”, 12. 22, 23. This is God’s grand objective, to which we “are come”. The church, as the “bride”, is described in the Book of Revelation as “the holy city, new Jerusalem”, 21. 2, 10. It was doubtless because of a heavenly prospect that Abraham was content to dwell “in tabernacles … for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God”, Heb. 11. 9, 10. God had “prepared for them a city”, v. 16.
Paul envisaged the church at Philippi as a microcosm of “the heavenly Jerusalem”. Philippi was a Roman colony, Acts 16. 12; a Roman garrison was quartered there, to maintain law and order in the city. The writ of Rome the imperial city ran at Philippi; its laws applied equally to Philippi. In the same way that Philippi was an outpost of Rome, Paul saw the Philippian church as an outpost of “the heavenly Jerusalem”; heaven’s writ must be seen to run there, as that of Rome at Philippi; the names of its members were written “in the book of life”, Phil. 4. 3; cf. Luke 10. 20; Heb. 12. 23. Consistent with the use of this metaphor, Paul exhorted them to behave only as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ, Phil. 1. 27. Their “citizenship (was) in heaven”, 3. 20 marg. As with the Ephesians, they were “fellowcitizens with the saints”, Eph. 2. 19. Even as the Roman garrison kept the peace at Philippi, Paul envisaged “the peace of God” as guarding their “hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”, Phil. 4. 7. In their Christian outreach, they must be seen by their worldly fellowcitizens at Philippi “as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life”, 2. 15, 16. The Lord said to His disciples, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid”, Matt. 5. 14, not hiding their light “under a bushel”, v. 15. The church should be seen to be such a city, shedding forth the light of the gospel and sounding “out the word of the Lord … in every place”, 1 Thess. 1. 8.
In the Book of Revelation, the “bride”, the subject of one paper of this series, finds her identity in a city. She is described as a “city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God”, 21. 2, 9, 10. The city is resplendent with “the glory of God”, her light such that “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’, vv.ll, 23, 25. Its features are particularly described in chapter 21 and in the early part of chapter 22. It will be of indescribable and unimaginable beauty; God’s ideal “garden city”, to be realized in the church.
Saviour, if of Zion’s city
I, through grace, a member am;
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in Thy name.
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