Tale of Two Cities

A key theme in Revelation is the contrast and conflict between the two cities - New Jerusalem and Babylon

The 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 pictured as “lampstands,” priests, and the “Two Witnesses.” And the overarching cosmic conflict is presented by contrasting two very different “cities.”

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 are incompatible if the book’s visions are literal.

For example, the community of overcoming saints is described as the “holy city” AND the “bride of the Lamb.”

THE HOLY CITY

To the church 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).

But 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 commands John to “measure” the “sanctuary,” the “altar,” and the priests who are “rendering divine service” in it to prepare the city for habitation. But first, the “holy city” must be delivered 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,” and “lampstands” in the book represent churches.

Thus, the “holy city” is a metaphor for the church bearing witness and suffering persecution, among other things. 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 sees the “holy city…descending from heaven.” The Greek term translated as “descending” represents a verb in the present tense which signifies an action in progress. Thus, John sees it in the process of “descending.”

And the “city” appears as a “bride adorned for her husband,” and is also called the “sanctuary of God,” an example of mixed metaphors being applied to the one people of God - (Revelation 21:1-9).

The city called “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 “makes all things new.”

Thus, on some level, the “city” is also the New Creation, the “new heavens and the new earth.” It includes 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.

THE GREAT CITY, BABYLON

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. And just as the “nations trampled the holy city underfoot,” so, now, “Babylon” is “trodden” underfoot in judgment and retribution - (Revelation 14:8-20).

When the “seventh bowl of wrath” is 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 the vision portrays the same reality as the previous vision of the “winepress of God” that was “trodden” outside the city’s walls.

It is at this time that “every island flees, and the mountains are not found,” as the entire earth is shaken and “great hail” falls upon the “inhabitants of the earth.” Effectively, “Babylon” is coterminous with the earth since every “inhabitant of the earth” dwells within her walls – (Revelation 16:19-21).

Next, John sees the “Great City” as a whorish figure in contrast to the “holy city,” the “bride of the Lamb.” She is “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and the abominations of the earth.” She is the one who seduces the “inhabitants of the earth” to commit “fornication” and idolatry, and she is “drunk with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.”

She is in the “wilderness,” the same place where God “nourished” the “woman clothed with the sun” after she produced the messianic “son.” Thus, for the time being, the two cities occupy the same time and space - (Revelation 12:1-17, 17:1-6).

And “Babylon” is seen “sitting on many waters.” That image symbolizes “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.”

She also rides the “Beast with ten horns” since she is the “Great City” that reigns over the “kings of the earth.” And the key to her influence is her economic control, and her power over the nations is dependent on global commerce - (Revelation 17:15-18:9).

TRIUMPH OF NEW JERUSALEM

But contrary to her claims, Jesus is the “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 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” will take a “great millstone” and cast it into the sea, and so, “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.”

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 though not exclusively so.

Neither “city” is limited to a specific geographic location. “Babylon” holds sway wherever the “inhabitants of the earth” are located, and the holy city of “New Jerusalem” encompasses the entire new earth after its “descent” from God.


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