There are three primary cities mentioned in the Bible. Yes, there are lots of cities mentioned, but sometimes when God talks about a city he is describing something more than just a physical place. He is also describing all the things that make a city "that" city; the spirit of the city, the culture, the governments, the lifestyle. It is withing this overall context that I make the statement that there are three primary cities mentioned in the Bible. One of them is Babylon. One is the Jerusalem on earth. The other is the Jerusalem that is not on earth, that is above.
Let's start with the great city Babylon.
1 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. 2 With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”
15 Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. 16 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. 18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. 2 With a mighty voice he shouted:
“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’
She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.
3 For all the nations have drunk
the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”
4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “‘Come out of her, my people,’
so that you will not share in her sins,
so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
5 for her sins are piled up to heaven,
and God has remembered her crimes.
The second city is Jerusalem here on earth.
24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.
The third is the city of Jerusalem that is above.
26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:
“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
These are the only places we can "live." These cities contain the only cultures, the only governments, the only lifestyles, the only spirits that we can become a part of. And we will live in one of these three cities. Our hearts, our way of thinking, our desires, our hopes, all of these things will shape what city we "live" in.
Babylon is a city of great sin and spiritual adultery. It is important to note that the call of God is to come out of her. There is no call of God to save or try to redeem Babylon. She is reserved for judgement.
Jerusalem on earth is a city in great religious bondage. It's culture and lifestyle reflect a culture that is ruled by traditions and legalism. It is a city that lives under the judgement described in Isaiah 28.
9 “Who is it he is trying to teach?
To whom is he explaining his message?
To children weaned from their milk,
to those just taken from the breast?
10 For it is:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there.”
11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
God will speak to this people,
12 to whom he said,
“This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”—
but they would not listen.
13 So then, the word of the LORD to them will become:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward;
they will be injured and snared and captured.
In other translation this is often referred to as "line upon line, precept upon precept." Jerusalem on earth is a city that God offered salvation to. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it did not recognize the time of it's visitation. And Jesus will return to this city. But even with that return Jerusalem on earth is temporary and will one day be destroyed.
The city that God has called his people to live in is the Jerusalem that is above, which is free. It is in this city that we are told to lay up our treasures and set our heart and mind.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
We cannot live in more than one city at the same time. There are many who believe in Jesus but who are "living" in Babylon. They risk being ensnared by the spiritual adulteries. There are other believers who "live" in Jerusalem here on earth. Their lives are full of legalism, of "line upon line, precept upon precept." They operate each day in spiritual bondage.
But to be a disciple of Jesus you have to decide to "live" in Jerusalem which is above. And your decision will be obvious to everyone.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
It will be obvious by our personal culture, by our lifestyle, by how we order our day to day routine, by the things we love, as to whether or not we consider the country we live in here on earth home. And it is important to note that the people that God is not ashamed to be called "their God" are the people who live in faith and who show by their faith, actions, and words that they are looking for another county and for a city who's architect and builder is God.
There is no city on the earth where Jesus "lives" today. To either Babylon or to Jerusalem Jesus is outside the city, in a place that those cities despise and reject.
11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
On the earth Jesus is still outside the city, outside the camp. We are called to leave the city and go to him outside the camp and bear the same disgrace he bore. We are not called to save the city, we are called to call others to come outside as well and to bear Jesus' disgrace.
All that I have said above has to do with our hearts and our way of thinking. None of this means we can't enjoy things on earth. None of this means we can't give ourselves to good works and help others. None of this means we can't vote or participate in earthly governments. But out treasures, our mind, our heart, our culture, our lifestyle, our faith, and our words should clearly demonstrate that we are outside of the camp with Jesus.
Consider your life, your language, and your faith. I invite you, through faith, to become a "resident" of that city that is eternal, that is full of light, whose architect and builder is God, where the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple.
12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.