A Longing for a City

I recently enjoyed visiting Seattle, the Emerald City. I loved being surrounded by the sounds of a bustling metropolis. People were going to and fro with a purpose. They had jobs to do and people to meet. Seattle is magnificent. It is green, and the cool breeze from the Puget Sound is never far away. There is art, music, architecture, and many other things to celebrate. Seattle is a city comprised of people from all over the world. As you move throughout the city, you can experience the tastes of India, Korea, Brazil, or other parts of the globe. They are proud of their local farmers and fishermen. A trip to Pike Place Market is a must. The taste of fresh fruit and the smell of recently cut flowers will brighten anyone’s day. My experience in Seattle was a real joy. It provided me with a small glimpse of God’s promise of a future home.

To some, it may sound crazy to compare heaven with a city on earth. I agree there is much about our modern cities that do not do justice to what God has in store. There will be no crime, drugs, pollution, etc. However, picturing the afterlife as a city is more biblical than some escapist hymns from the early 1900’s. The thing that awaits us all is a “holy city” (Rev. 21:2). This is not just some minute point the inspired writer uses to captivate our uninformed minds. Revelation 21-22 contains vivid details about this city. There is a wall, gates, a river, fruit, and much more. This isn’t the first time in Scripture where a future city where the people of God will dwell is mentioned. In Hebrews 11:10, it is said of Abraham, “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” From the beginning of the Biblical story (Genesis) to the end (Revelation) the vision of the afterlife remains the same. God plans for us to live in a city.

If we are going to think biblically about the life to come, then we must abandon escapism and replace it with redemption. God’s purpose is not to escape from evil and sin but to overcome it and reclaim what is lost. Sin corrupts more than human beings. The ground is cursed, and those who labor with their hands in the soil must deal with thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:17-18). This was not how it was in the beginning and creation along with humanity yearns for redemption (Rom. 8:18-23). In Paul’s powerful hymn in the book of Colossians, he pictures the culmination of the work of Christ being a reconciliation of “all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col. 1:20). In Peter’s second sermon from the book of Acts, he points out that God’s plan is to restore all things.

“that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” (Acts 3:20-21)

Anthony Ash commenting on Acts 3:21 in The Living Word Commentary writes, “Were one to examine all the Old Testament prophets of the coming age, with its complete cessation of war, universal acceptance of Yahweh, etc., it would be obvious that the coming of Christ was the inauguration of a reign of God which promised a yet more glorious future. This world has not yet completely owned its true king. Christians believe there awaits a perfect beatification beyond history, foretastes of which are given within history to those in Christ.”

This world has been deeply scarred by sin but for those of us who have eyes to see and ears to hear, we are able to catch glimpses of what is to come. Cities such as New York, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Mumbai, Paris, London, Chicago, and others around the globe are far from perfect. They are flawed in many ways and overrun with sin, and yet God uses this image of a city to explain what we will one day experience. It is in these imperfect cities that we sometimes glimpse what God is doing. On their better days, people from all over the world gather in cities and live in harmony. A city is a community where people live together. It is a place with a thriving culture. There is music, art, and all kinds of food. People share tables and public spaces. People enjoy the beauty of the city and the beauty of creation. The one thing that will make the new Jerusalem different from all other cities is that God will be at the center. Instead of being united around a sports team or some other unique part of the city, people will be united around God. The God of the Universe will infuse every aspect of the city, and it will be unlike anything else we have ever known.

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

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