There is so much to write about what I am seeing at this moment. Just look up where you are and test how many words you need to describe your setting. Look a bit further, outside, the trees, clouds, plants, sky and mountains and realize how impossible it would be to describe what you see to someone who is born blind.
I was a young teenager when a distant cousin came to visit. She was born blind and attended a school for the blind that taught her amazing independence for the demands of everyday life. It was close to Christmas and we took my sister’s young children to see the Christmas decorations in the city. I sat in the backseat of the car with her and she asked me to describe what I see. I used a tidal wave of words to communicate something of the light and colour around us, all the while thinking whether she knows what a tree, or lamp, or road looks like. She was quite satisfied and full of smiles, enjoying the excitement of the children. How could I ever have known what she conjured in her imagination? She looked with her ears. My words formed her perception.
When we read the Bible, we need to see with our mind’s eye. We develop our imagination, under the control of the Holy Spirit, to see what we hear. Paul says the eyes of our understanding should be enlightened. (Ephesians 1:18). How will we understand if we do not hear the Word of God?
When we read about Abraham in the patriarchal era, 2100 – 1800 BC, which is regarded as the Intermediate Bronze Age, a time between two ages with highly developed urban culture in the ancient near Middel-East . He is called by God from Ur in Chaldea, the capital of Mesopotamia at the climax of this particular city’s development. Archeologists found that even something like in-house sewage was common in the city. Ur was established around 3800 BC and appears in historical scripts from 2600 BC. The city’s location is quite accurately pinpointed in southern Iraq.
God calls Abraham (his name was Abram and it changed when he entered into a covenant with God) from this sophisticated urban setting to the land Canaan that was empty and very ready for habitation and agricultural development. God promises the land as far as Abraham’s eye can see and his descendants to fill the land, in which all the nations of the world would be blessed. God’s word in the ears of Abraham was the foundation of his faith. He had to see with his ears.
17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)
God’s word in our ears is the faith that lets us see.
For centuries after the promise to Abraham, many nations followed a nomadic lifestyle, while the descendants of Abraham could establish communities, villages and cities in the land of promise that yielded a harvest. Abraham had to see this in his mind’s eye, based on the promise.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;
10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10)
From as far back as the Bronze Age, Abraham “saw” the City of God, which John only describes at the end of the first century in the Book of Revelation – the New Jerusalem.
Sin worked its destruction in the land of Canaan after the jealousy and treachery of Joseph’s brothers. Famine, which usually follows drought and failed crops, forces the family of Jacob to Egypt for survival. There they discover their long-lost brother where he provides their livelihood to ensure their status as a great nation. The house of Jacob was never the same after Joseph left. The ten brothers’ lives were profoundly changed. It is all recorded in Genesis 38 and 49. The only ray of sunshine was the birth of Benjamin, but his mother, the beloved Rachel, died in childbirth.
As far back as the Bronze Age, the known facts of early cities like Ur, Sodom, Gomorra and the majestic cities of Egypt as well as the foundations of Babylon, help us to picture our faith heroes in historical context. The Bible, however, focusses on their walk with God and faith-actions and not on their environment. The Bible can be quite vague about places and boundaries. It keeps the archeologists and theologians very busy. Their tireless work to explain and enlighten, helps us to strengthen our mind pictures.
The building of cities is a long and interesting theme in the Bible. After the Flood, the people came together to build a city and live together. God confuses their language to prevent the unity that will strengthen evil. Many years later Abraham travelled three days to a hill outside the city of Salem to sacrifice his son to God. On the hill outside Salem, the Angel of the Lord saved Abraham’s son. This was the first mention of the city that later became Jerusalem. Outside this city on the same hill where Abraham stood, God’s son died on a cross as the ultimate sacrifice for mankind.
Jerusalem is probably one of the most well-known cities in the world and world history. The eternal city, the resurrected city, the city of destruction, the city of tears, the city in modern times that is crippled with the burden of hostility and divisiveness. It is the name that will always resound in the ears of God as it is a city that is elevated to eternity, to exist forever.
How will the description of Jerusalem’s history over centuries be pictured in our minds?
Let us turn to the Bible for help. Even before Jesus walked, healed and talked in the streets of Jerusalem, the splendour of the climax of Hebrew civilization during and after the building of the Temple of Solomon, was declining rapidly. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city wall and Temple in a cruel siege lasting more than a year. Nehemiah and Ezrah bring the people back and restore the Temple and city wall, but not to its former grandeur. The city suffers greatly under the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes, who desecrates the Temple and cruelly persecutes the Jews. The Maccabees war restores the holiness of worship in the Temple. Herod the Great, in his ambitious architectural pursuits, builds a grand Temple with some additions for the Gentiles and women, that were never in the original plan. The priests and rabbi’s run Temple worship according to their own special version of obedience to God, until Jesus came and daringly confronted them, calling out their fraud.
Jesus speaks a lament over the city.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; (Matthew 23:37,38)
Just shortly after Jesus speaks these words:
34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. (Matthew 24:34)
Just less than forty years (a generation in Biblical terms) after the crucifixion, the Roman Emperor, Tiberius, sends in his general, Vespasian, to rid the Empire of the problems in Judea. Jerusalem is once again under siege. Death comes to the city in a cruel and destructive manner. Only the one wall of the Temple is left – today’s Wailing Wall, which stands as the lament over the earthly Jerusalem and the heartbreaking persecution of its people over the course of history. I believe God put an end to animal sacrifices once and for all, since the perfect Lamb of God died and rose again. The Cross and resurrection of Jesus changed the dispensation from Old Testament animal sacrifices to the spiritual acceptance of the ultimate sacrifice to be born into the Kingdom of God. (John 3)
The challenge is clear. See with your ears. John sees the invisible on the island Patmos, and has to describe the indescribable – the New Jerusalem. He uses all the symbolism, metaphors and allegory that is known to the people to whom he writes to describe the splendour and magnificence of the ultimate city – the culmination of God’s Plan.
The twelve gates are pearls, inaccessible wealth, the tribes of Israel, who gave us the Messiah. Jesus is the Door, the Way, the perfect Lamb who paved the way into the City, the Church of the Living God, for salvation and redemption. The pillars are the twelve apostles, who formulated the Gospel from the presence of Jesus to run with it over the world. Paul, the true twelfth apostle, who stood in for all those who haven’t seen Jesus in the flesh, but to whom He revealed himself by his Spirit.
The foundation of the city is the most splendid and superb precious stones in a wide array of colours – the souls of men. The whole city is the dwelling place of God – the most holy part of the Temple. There is no Temple. (Revelation 21:22) There is no sun, or moon – God is the light of the city (John 8:12). The New Jerusalem is the Church of Jesus, the invisible Kingdom of God on earth. It is only from the very presence of God that the Church would ever be able to respond to the evil in the world around us.
See with your ears every promise of God in the Bible so that your faith will rise up and be counted as righteousness as with Abraham. We are the city of God. We rule with Jesus over satan – it is our place and goal. Do not let the enemy steal your place at the table of God and shout defeat in your ears. Note what you hear – let it be the Word of God.
Then your will see the city – it is you!