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Saturday, July 10, 2010

God's Tale of Two Cities

How many times have you been told that 'the Bible is God's love letter to us'? This may be true enough, very loosely speaking, but aside from the fact that using this kind of language lends credence to the personalization of the Scriptures; the story that we read in the Scriptures is, to borrow from a famous author, 'A Tale of Two Cities'.

The Hebrew, or more commonly, Old Testament Scriptures lay out for us the establishment of the temporal, or earthly city, and the Greek, or New Testament Scriptures record the establishment of the eternal, or heavenly city, on earth. Paul wrote to the church at Galatia;

'For it is written that Abraham had two sons; the one by a bond-woman, the other by a free-woman. But he [ who was ] born of the bond-woman was born according to the flesh, but he of the free-woman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are [ the? ] two covenants; the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bandage, which is Hagar-for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children-but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.' ( Galatians 4:22-26 )

First of all; this should tell us that, besides the fact that Paul is referring to the two covenants, and the freedom ( as opposed to slavery-John 8:33-35-how convenient that they forgot the Egyptian captivity of their forefathers, which captivity Jesus subtly reminded them of ) and betterment ( Hebrews 8:6-13 ) of the second, or New Covenant, which is, as Isaac was, of promise ( Hebrews 6:13-18 ( Jeremiah 31:31-34 ) Genesis 17:19, 18:10 ), Paul is speaking here, in the words of Augustin 'the city of God, and the city of the world ( or man )'. These two 'cities' both bear the same name, as Paul recorded above, but with one striking difference; one is 'now' ( II Peter 3:7 ) and earthly ( physical ), and the other is 'above', heavenly ( spiritual-Hebrews 12:22-24 ). In what is known as 'the faith chapter'; we read how 'all these died in faith', seeking 'a homeland', 'a better, that is, a heavenly [ country ]' ( city? ) ( Hebrews 11:13-16 ) Earlier in this chapter, referring to Abraham; the Author wrote that 'he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God' ( as opposed to man's-Genesis 10:10-12 ), and again, in Hebrews 13:14, reminded his readers that 'here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come'. Again; we must remember that the Author here referred, not only to the fact that our residence on this earth is only temporary at best, but more importantly and to the point, the writer was focused on the eternality of this new and ( ever ) lasting covenant and Kingdom ( Daniel 2:44 ).

Secondly; as the writers of the New Testament Scriptures ( the 'epistles', in particular ) make very clear; this new 'city', as with the covenant, is not an earthly, physical one, as we, as human beings are used to residing in, but rather a heavenly, spiritual one that resides in, in fact is made up of, those who believe on ( trust in ) Jesus as the Christ ( Anointed One ), the Son of God!

Looking first, at some Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures; as far back as Numbers 24:7-19; Balaam, at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, prophesied of the Christ when he uttered these words concerning 'the city of man': 'Out of Jacob One shall have dominion, and destroy the remains of the city'. Concerning this 'city of man'; David prayed, in Psalm 55:9, 'Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues, for I have seen violence and strife in the city', while his son saw, in Proverbs 11:11, that 'By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked'. Solomon later wrote, concerning the deadness and uselessness of the Old Covenant, in Ecclesiastes 8:10, 'Then I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of holiness, and they were forgotten [ praised? ] in the city where they had so done. This also is vanity.' Though this 'city of man', which God had nevertheless chosen to dwell in ( I Kings 8:44 ), had become corrupted; He promised through the prophet Isaiah, that 'I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city'. ( Isaiah 1:26 ). Isaiah 26:5 reveals how God destroyed ( and still destroys ) this 'city of man'; ' For He brings down those who dwell on high, the lofty city; He lays it low, He lays it low to the ground, He brings it down to the dust'. In Jeremiah 8:16, we see further proof of how God destroyed 'the city of man'; 'The snorting of His horses was heard from Dan. The whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of His strong ones; for they have come and devoured the land and all that is in it, the city and those who dwell in it.' Concerning this 'city of man'; God further promised, in Jeremiah 19:11 & 12, 'Even so I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot be made whole again; and they shall bury them in Tophet till there is no place to bury. Thus I will do to this place, says the LORD, and to its inhabitants, and make this city like Tophet', finally saying, in Jeremiah 23:39, 'therefore behold, I, even I, will utterly forget you and forsake you, and the city that I gave you and your fathers, and will cast you out of My presence'.

Regarding His Son, God revealed that 'I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways; He shall build My city and let My exiles go free, not for price nor reward, says the LORD of hosts'. ( Isaiah 45:13 ) Using very physical language ( this is where some have been confused, I believe ); God promised, following His revelation of the New Covenant, in Jeremiah 31:38, 'Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, that the city shall be built for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate'. Ezekiel also used very physical language when he prophesied ( not unlike John, in Revelation 21:16 & 17 ) 'All the way around shall be eighteen thousand cubits; and the name of the city from that day shall be: THE LORD IS THERE.”[ YHWH Shammah ]'. ( Ezekiel 48:35 ) In Daniel's famous prayer for his people; he longed for this 'change' ( from the 'Old' to the 'New'-I Corinthians 15:52 ) that God had promised: 'O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us'. In Zechariah 8:3; God renewed His promise, giving His people hope, revealing that 'I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, the Mountain of the LORD of hosts, the Holy Mountain'. The sons of Korah prophesied of the blessings of the New Covenant on this 'city of God', in Psalm 46:4, singing '[ There is ] a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy [ place ] of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.' They also wrote ( and sang ) in Psalm 87:3, 'Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God! Selah'. Asaph echoed this sentiment, when he wrote, in Psalm 50:2, 'Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God will shine forth'. David sang praises when he remembered that 'God will save Zion and build the cities of Judah, that they may dwell there and possess it.' ( Psalm 69:35 ), and the psalmist, crying to the Lord from the midst of his afflictions, takes comfort in the fact that 'the LORD shall build up Zion; He shall appear in His glory'. Remembering that, although there was an actual city called Zion ( the City of David-II Samuel 5:7, I Chronicles 11:5 ), and was technically a 'city of man'; it was typical of the spiritual Zion ( like the 'heavenly Jerusalem' ), which signified the 'remnant' ( Isaiah 10:20-23 ), the New Covenant people of God, the true 'Israel of God' ( Romans 8:6-8 ( Galatians 6:16 ).

We have seen, in the Hebrew Scriptures, how that God had promised to bring, through and to His Old Covenant people, the 'change' necessary to transform them from 'the city of man', and make them a fit dwelling for Himself, into 'the city of God' ( I Peter 2:5 ). Let us look now at a few of the Greek, or New Testament Scriptures which not only tell us of the same, but remind us that this 'transformation' was happening, and was fulfilled in their own day!

It was prophesied in Isaiah 24:10, concerning the destruction of this 'city of man', 'The city of confusion is broken down; every house is shut up, so that none may go in.' Jesus told a parable in Matthew 22:14 concerning the kingdom of heaven, revealing what would happen to the 'city of man', of those who had rejected Him and His Spirit, 'and broken the everlasting covenant'; 'But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city'. Before sending His disciples out ( Matthew 10:5 ) to preach the nearness of the Kingdom, or the 'change' from the physical 'city of man' to the spiritual 'city of God'; Jesus had instructed them 'whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.' ( Luke 9:5 ) saying to the people of that city 'The very dust of your city which clings to us [ our feet ] we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you'. Remember too, that Jesus had told them, in Matthew 10:23, 'When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.' When Jesus had His appointed meeting with the woman of Samaria at the well in Sychar, recorded in John 4, He gave a hint, as He did in the previous chapter, to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, of this 'change' that I mentioned above, and which Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 15:52, from the physicality of the Old Covenant to the spirituality of the New. During His conversation with this woman; Jesus told her 'Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father' ( 4:21 ), and several verses later, that 'the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him' ( 4:23 ). In His aforementioned conversation with Nicodemus, after telling him of the importance and import of this 'change'; Jesus told Nicodemus that 'The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit' ( 3:8 ), then asked, at Nicodemus' incredulity, 'If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?' In John 14:2; Jesus told His disciples, after revealing that He was 'the Way, the Truth, and the Life', that 'In My Father’s house are many mansions [ dwellings ]; if it were not so, I would have told you. [ for ] I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also' ( I Thessalonians 4:18 ). After a lengthy conversation concerning the indwelling of the Spirit, and Jesus soon bodily absence and yet continuing presence with them; the disciples asked 'Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?' Jesus told them, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.' He said this, not to confuse His earlier statement, but to remind His disciples of the spiritual nature of this new 'dwelling', this 'city of God'!

In his epistle to the church at Rome; Paul explained, in the first three chapters especially, the vanity, or uselessness, of 'the city of man': in Romans 1:18-21; Paul began his diatribe against this city of man, saying that 'the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.' In chapter 2; Paul revealed that his main argument was with his own people the Jews ( especially their leaders ), saying, in verse 17-23, 'Indeed [ but if ] you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?' In chapter 3, after defending God's righteous judgment on the 'city of man'; Paul explained to them, both Jew and Gentile ( 'for there is no difference' ), in verses 21 and 22, the preeminence of the 'city of God', saying that 'now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all [ NU text omits 'on all' ] who believe.' Again; using very physical language; Paul described the longing of the whole creation ( God's people-Romans 8:20-23 ), and the assurance they had in Jesus, in II Corinthians 5:1 & 2: he wrote, 'For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven'. ( I've quoted this passage before, in reference to the New Covenant, which can be equated with 'the city of God' )

Luke quotes from Psalm 69, in Acts 1:20, referring to the betrayal of our Lord by Judas Iscariot, saying 'it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it’'. One could argue that this is referring, not to the 'city of man' in particular, but to the curse that was pronounced upon Judas personally, for his betrayal, but if we think about it, Jesus' betrayal was a result of Judas' living in 'the city of man', with a focus, as with many of the Jews of his day, on the physicality of the promises. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, reminded the people of God in that church that they were 'no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit' ( Ephesians 2:19-22 ) When Jesus had cleansed the physical Temple, in John 2:13-22; 'the Pharisees asked Him 'What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?', He, in answering, said 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up'. They, thinking naturally, of the physical, as Nicodemus had, were taken aback at this, and plainly said so, but Jesus had spoken of 'the temple of His body', and of the spiritual nature of 'the city of God', as He had mentioned to the woman in Samaria. Paul latter followed this theme in dealing with the carnality ( physical thinking/acting ) of the Corinthian church, when in I Corinthians 3:16, he asked them, by way of remembrance, 'Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?', and again, 'If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which [ temple ] you are.' ( see also I Corinthians 6:19, II Corinthians 6:16 ) Finally; when John saw in a vision the gloriousness of the New, or heavenly ( Hebrews 12:22 ) Jerusalem; he noted of this city that 'I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.' Earlier in this vision, John 'brought it all home', so to speak, when he wrote that 'I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God [ is ] with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them [ and be ] their God.' What more needs to be said? The 'city of man' has been transformed into 'the city of God'! Physically speaking, of course, you might well say that even as Christians, we dwell in 'the city of man' yet, but can we really say that?

In the Love of Christ, Charles Shank

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