Babylon and Jerusalem have both been literal cities in the Middle East. Babylon is first mentioned in Genesis, at the building of the Tower of Babel. Jerusalem is first mentioned in Genesis as the home of the King of Salem, Melchizedek. It might be argued that these first occurrences pave the way for the rest of the Bible, and the understanding that gradually builds up of a SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE. In our last paper we said that the Bible was, in essence, the “Tale of Two Cities”. And this is indeed true, because of the spiritual principles involved. One may become a great scholar, and be much increased in learning, and know the answers to many questions, but if basic spiritual principles are not understood and applied in life, then all this knowledge is in vain. It dies with us when we die, and is not part of an incorruptible inheritance, laid up in heaven. This is very sad.
What then is this ‘spiritual principle’? The truth is that which we expounded in our last paper, the doctrinal difference between the FLESH and the SPIRIT. Babylon represents the achievements of man, by his own planning and design, his own thought processes, his own labour. It is the result of all that he does IN THE FLESH. And the Bible spells doom to the lot. Man may stand back in amazement at what man can do, but it does not excite the Godhead. “Ichabod” is written all over it. The glory has departed, because man is a fallen creature, and IN THE FLESH he can do nothing to please God.
But Jerusalem represents all that emanates from the renewed SPIRIT of man. It speaks of faith, and obedience, and the presence of ever-growing fruits of thc Spirit. Jerusalem hears the word of the Lord, and by obedience builds a city of hope and promise, a city where all his faith-achievement is stored up for him for later days, in resurrection.
Babylon is depicted as a harlot, seated on a beast which is the corporate work of Satan.
Jerusalem is depicted as a bride, the wife of the Lamb of God.
Babylon is built of man-made bricks, stuck together with black bitumen.
Jerusalem is made of living stones made perfect through the furnace of affliction, and fitting together perfectly without any ‘cement’ or ‘glue’.
Once again we must emphasise the word OBEDIENCE in connection with this whole study. Let us see what the N.T. has to say about obedience. In Hebrews 5:8 we find the strangest of statements. It refers to our Lord and Master. “He LEARNED OBEDIENCE through the things which He suffered, and having been perfected, He became Author of eternal salvation to all those who OBEY Him.” 0 may we ponder on these words. It may not have occurred to us that the Holy Son of God NEEDED to endure such life-experiences. But the author of Hebrews had been instructed deeply in these matters and he spelled them out for our learning. Jesus, in the days of His flesh, was required by his Father to conform to the schoolroom of life’s experience in order to grow to spiritual manhood and perfection. (This perfection is nothing to do with sin. It speaks of growth to manhood and maturity.) If our Lord and Master required such a process, how much more should we! And so He becomes the Author of our salvation IF WE OBEY HIM.
Paul’s apostleship was directed towards FAITH-OBEDIENCE among all nations. (Rom.1:5) Notice how faith and obedience are linked together here. It straightway reminds us of the Lord’s encounter with the Centurion at Capernaum. This Roman soldier said, in effect, “You just say the word, and it will be done. I understand obedience. I have been trained in it.”The Lord marvelled at his word, and said, “Truly I say to you, I have not found so great FAITH, not even in Israel.”(Matt.8:1O, the first occurrence of the word faith in the N.T.) See how the Centurion’s OBEDIENCE was construed as FAITH by the Lord. How glad is our Lord when He sees our implicit obedience. And obedience is based on TRUST. When we have learned to TRUST God, then we shall have no problem with OBEYING Him. Even if our flesh cries out against such obedience, we shall overcome. Remember King Saul’s problem was in this area. He did not think it mattered that he disobeyed, and offered sacrifice to the Lord, even though he must have known that those of the tribe of Benjamin were OUTSIDE the Priesthood. How fitting were Samuel’s words to him, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” The opposite was also strongly portrayed. “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” Deeply significant lessons are found in these words. (1 Sam.15:22-23)
Returning to the N.T., Peter says, “Gird up the loins of your mind – -as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in your ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, so you too should be holy in all your behaviour.” And again, “You have purified your souls in obeying the truth, through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren” (1 Pet.1:22,14) See how, first of all, the Holy Spirit enables us to obey, and in the second place our obedience brings about a PURIFICATION of our whole nature.
Finally, in 2 Cor.1O:5-6, Paul says, “Bringing into captivity every thought to the OBEDIENCE of Christ, and having readiness to avenge all disobedience, once your OBEDIENCE reaches its full measure.” How full of meaning is this statement. It shows that our obedience is like a vessel that is gradually being filled to the brim, which is God’s will for us. It also gives clear evidence that there is a future day when we shall be required to enter into the period of God’s judgments, but ONLY IF our own obedience is filled up. How can we hope to be part of God’s plan to avenge disobedience, if our own obedience is not perfected?
We must now investigate more evidence from the Scriptures about the two cities of Babylon and Jerusalem.
Let us start with Rev.18:4. “I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not her plagues.” The clear teaching is that God’s people are initially IN BABYLON. How is this? As long as we understand the spiritual principle, we shall not miss the important truth. All of us start off in Babylon, because we are born in the flesh. But the Spirit of God is at hand to enlighten God’s children about their position, and very soon we should learn about the need to crucify the flesh, which in this passage is likened to ‘coming out’ of the city. See in verse 10 that it is called “the Great City”. Yes, how great she is, her size is prodigious. She contains all the nations and races of mankind IN THE FLESH! But Jerusalem is called the HOLY CITY, and though of no stated size, yet she contains all the holy power of God. How important it is to move out of Babylon and get on the road that leads to Jerusalem!
Paul exhorts his Corinthian readers to do likewise. He says, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you.” (2 Cor.6:17) Paul was quoting from Isaiah 52:11, and so we see how the whole Bible is interspersed with comments about leaving Babylon. Jeremiah had much to prophesy about the nature of Babylon in Chapter 51. In verse 26 we learn that “they shall not take of you a stone for a corner , nor a stone for foundations.” Hence to be part of Babylon is to DISQUALIFY one’s self from membership of Jerusalem. Even if we all start off in Babylon, there is no hope for us in connection with the Holy City, unless we GET OUT!
How then shall we go forth from Babylon? Isaiah, in the passage already quoted (52:12) has the answer. “You shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rearward.” How instructive! If left to us, having read and learned the truth about Babylon, we might be inclined to say “Right, that settles it once and for all. I’m saying goodbye to this place, and making all speed for Jerusalem!” But this would not be the way of the Lord. He alone knows the way, and He alone can adjust the speed. He is in front as our Vanguard, and also behind as our Rearguard. Praise the Lord! We are locked up, so to speak, to travel at His pace and in His way. Why is this? Why cannot the Lord speak well of supersonic travel to Jerusalem? Because when we unlock the picture and look at the truth, we see the nature of the problem. Our flesh is a most troublesome encumbrance. If we should want to be ‘up, up, and away!’ then we might reach a point where we should meet some requirement of the Lord for which we are not ready. And obedience to this command would be too difficult for us, and it would destroy us and send us back from whence we came, saying, “I can’t take it! He asks too much from me. If I had known this would happen, I’d never have started out.”Hence the Lord alone must govern the pace. He is not the God of destruction, but the God of creation, NEW creation. He does not want to upset the delicate and important process of our spiritual development. Our Lord went through this process in His earthly life, as we learned from Hebrews 5. Even He could not by-pass this authorised road. But He reached perfection and so also shall we, under the Master’s direction.
After the children of Judah had been in Babylon for their 70 years, and the captivity was over, we learn that a REMNANT returned to Jerusalem. Of course, there is much teaching in this as to our present theme, and we shall leave our readers to pursue it. But one point should be brought out here. There were two special men at the helm in those days, Joshua the High Priest, and Zerubbabel the prince, who was a descendant of the royal house of Judah and David. In the name of this prince, Zerubbabel, there is a truth locked up. It means “shoot of Babel” or “shooting forth from Babylon.” Hence he represents for us the type of all those who come forth from the Great City and make for the Holy City.
What is God’s estimation of Babylon? in Rev.18 we read, “She has glorified herself and lived deliciously.” “She says in her heart, ‘I sit a Queen! I am no widow! I shall not see sorrow!” And “She was clothed in fine linen, and purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls” Note the self-imposed grandeur of all these things. No wonder we find so repulsive the oft-quoted sayings of the Charismatic movement that they are “kids of the King”, with all their emphasis on Triumphalism, and “Kingdom Now”, and “Health and Wealth”. How well did the Lord depict this kind of attitude when He spoke to the Laodicean Church in Rev.3. “Because you say, ‘I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing’ and do not recognise that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked – -.” He refers to them as “luke-warm”, and the whole point of being luke-warm is that it is a MIXTURE of hot water and cold water. And the Lord hates a mixture. Their mixture was the understanding of the way of the Holy Spirit, but being worked out in the flesh. The Lord God cannot accept a mixture of the FLESH and the SPIRIT. It is anathema to Him. He says, “I will spew you out of my mouth.” And that is strong language.
But what does God say about His own City, His Holy City? First of all, it is seen in heaven. It is not of this earth, not of this creation, but wholly of the Lord, belonging to heaven. Gradually it grows downwards from heaven until it touches earth, like a Jacob’s ladder, but none of it has any part that is ‘earthly’, nothing of the ‘flesh’.
In the second place, it is composed of beautiful stones, like gems, full of self-productive light, glowing with the glory of God. Each stone began on the earth in quite a different condition. The simple analogy of the element Carbon, the 6th element in the Periodic Table, tells a story. This element may appear as Soot, or Carbon, or Graphite, all of which are black, dirty, and messy. But take some Carbon, and cause it to undergo the most drastic pressures and temperatures, and what happens? Out comes a Diamond!! It may seem wholly impossible that this beautiful gem has EXACTLY THE SAME chemical composition as the dirty soot. Unbelievable? But nevertheless true. God can take the dirtiest of human souls and in the process of time convert it into the most precious of gems. All precious stones are the product of the ‘afflictions’ and ‘tribulations’ of regions deep within the earth. They illustrate the fires of Gods refinement, and the pressures which cause us to cry out in pain sometimes, but which work wonders on us in our development towards the Holy City.
In the third place, we are shown the Holy City as a Bride adorned for her husband, dressed in white. But the words used in the Greek of Rev.19:7 tell us more. “It was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, BRIGHT AND PURE, for the fine linen is the RIGHTEOUS DEEDS OF THE SAINTS.” Some clothes may be said to be white, but there is a great distinction between that which is merely white, and that which is BRIGHT and PURE. Her fine linen had a quality about it which made her shine, as though she were an inward lamp of great intensity. She has become like her Lord, of whom we read in the Gospels, that He was transformed before Peter, James and John, and when they looked at their Master, they saw Him dressed in white that was so dazzling, that they could scarcely look upon it. (Matt 172 Mak.9:3, Luke 9:29)
Finally, we read (in Rev.21:21) that the City has 12 gates, and each gate is a Pearl. Now 12 indicates perfect government, so that the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife has attained the state where she can govern the world with her Husband as Head. Also the gates are made of single pearls, each one must be of great price. But what is a pearl? Is it not the work of the Oyster? And how is the Pearl made? It is through irritation. The shellfish finds a small grain of sand or grit has entered the shell, and the fish is made of very soft tissues. These tissues could easily be lacerated if the grit remained. Instead of purging the grit from the shell, it covers it with ‘mother of pearl’ until it has increased in size and beauty. The original grit has now become a thing of great beauty, and was (and still is) prized among men. Is not this the story of our lives? Does not the Lord leave us with irritations? Like Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” Instead of taking it away, He allows its existence so that we may smooth it over and obtain in its place a prize of great value. Life for a believer can never be a simple and pleasant affair. But this does not mean that God has overlooked us, or that He lacks care and love for us. He knows how much we can achieve, and if the ‘grit’ can be borne with patience to obtain such a prize, He will surely allow it to stay.
No doubt there are other lessons to be learned from the account in the later chapters of Revelation. But here we must stop, for fear of overloading this paper.
In summarising, we have seen the usefulness of God’s Law, and its effect on the Conscience, and how the renewed mind is enlightened. At times we shall need to come back to the Cross when sin is revealed in our lives, and so crucify yet another aspect of the Old Man. Over and above all these things we have seen the absolute necessity of OBEDIENCE in a believer’s life. And finally we have observed the way in which God has set forth these two cities, as an object lesson to our spiritual growth. Some of our readers may find that they have been looking at these cities in only a LITERAL sense. But we must again remind ourselves of what our Lord said to the woman at the well, and realise that in these N.T. days, there is no longer any place for literal cities, whether they be Babylon or Jerusalem. Everything now relates to the unseen realm. Babylon is a truly huge city, but it will fall. The judgment of God is written very large over her in the 18th chapter of Revelation. Jerusalem has been growing steadily from the days of Abel, and contains all those who have overcome by faith, overcome by the word of their testimony, and have not loved their soul-life unto death.