Introduction to A Tale of Two Cities
I remember being introduced to the writings of Charles Dickens by an English school teacher when I as a teenage boy. At the time I could not quite understand why she brought Victorian English and its archaic phraseology into an Afrikaans school, but she did. What I also remember is that, in spite of the cultural divide that existed between Victorian English and 20th century Afrikaans, I thoroughly enjoyed some of it; especially Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and The Tale of Two Cities. The Tale of Two Cities centers on events that took place in the cities of Paris and London around the time of the French Revolution.
I would also like to tell you a tale of two cities. This story was ignited in my heart way back in 1986. Through the years my understanding of the implications of its message has evolved quite dramatically, but its essence has remained and has even been reinforced.
Both the cities of my story really exist, they have been and still are two real entities on earth with rich histories. However, there is more to them than that. These brick and mortar cities have very real and very relevant spiritual counterparts. That is what I want to focus on. I want to look at the spiritual truths they represent and the impact they have on our practical daily living. This impact is not just a passing one, but a crucially formative one that I believe we should be very aware of.
In the Bible, “city” is often represented as the seat of a kingdom. It is the place where the king has his throne and from whence he governs. It is not a democracy, but a city-state under his rule. The king’s laws are the laws that determine the values and priorities of his kingdom. They form the framework within which he wants to accomplish his goals and by which the citizens of the city must conduct their lives.
The two cities I want to talk about represent two ancient and opposing kingdoms. Their earthly counterparts have been around for a very long time. From archaeological research it seems that their histories, up to now, have spanned at least five millennia. One actually has to go back much further than five thousand years because the spiritual foundation for their existence is older than that; it was put in place before time began. The concept of them as cities has been around forever and they are ancient in every sense of the word.
Both of their founders are kings, each in his own setting. Both of them have very clear and non-negotiable agendas that are based upon their respective value systems. Everything that happens within their rule is in focused pursuit of incrementally accomplishing their ultimate goal.
In the process they are inviting and influencing humanity to buy into that which constitutes their wisdom and values. There has never been anyone, neither is there anyone around at present nor will there ever be anyone in the future who do not conduct the business of living anywhere else, but within the ambit of their existence and influence. Nobody escapes this, there simply is no other venue in which to do life.
As can be expected, their histories contain much intrigue that has developed over the centuries. So much has happened during the span of their existence. Generation upon generation have come and gone, each one building upon the foundation of its predecessor, each one pursuing its unique mission; to accomplish their city’s ultimate purpose, which is the establishment of their kingdom.
The fundamental difference in their modus operandi is that one is, in its very essence, exuberant, ecstatic other-centred and hence sacrificial love, inviting and enabling its adherents to participate in this love that expresses the heart of is its king’s being and then sharing it with others. Its battle cry is glorious freedom and creativity fueled by this other centered love.
In contrast to this the second one seeks to keep its adherents locked up within themselves as the source and determiners of their own lives, creating their own solutions to that which they may face, both as individuals and corporately. Through subtlety and deceit it encourages them to structure themselves in such a way that the structures become their source and place of security at economic, religious, social and political levels. Its dominance is established through fear.
Even though their origins are in eternity, they are both in the process of developing into full bloom, reaching a climax that might possibly be within the lifetime of some of us who are alive today. Some of us might even witness the confrontation of the ages when one of them will triumph and the other be triumphed over. Then the end of this present age will come and the fullness of the future age will be inaugurated.
The one city is called Babylon and the other Jerusalem.
I want to march in step with that which Solomon said in the Book of Ecclesiastes: better is the end of a matter than its beginning and start by looking at the ultimate outcome of both of them. The only place to do so is found in the Book of Revelation.
Whatever all the implications of the Babylonian kingdom might be and how it applies to us, and we will look at them as we build this house, the following is said of its end:
After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury." And I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues…….The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.'…… 'What is like this great city?' "They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.'
(Extracts from Revelation chapter 18)
Jerusalem on the other hand has a culmination that is described as follows:
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, "Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready." And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!' " And he said to me, "These are the true sayings of God."……..Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And 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. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts…….Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, "Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.
(Extracts from Revelation chapter 19)
So, there we have it. Whatever Babylon might represent, and it seems to be a city in which humanity has not only placed its trust but also one in which we all find ourselves and are told to depart from, it will collapse with all the dramatic consequences of shattered security.
In contrast to this Jerusalem’s future is inextricably connected to a few things:
She is the bride of Christ, the one who has entered into covenantal relationship with Jesus.
She has prepared herself for this ultimate consummation.
The inauguration of the age of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom where there is a new heaven and a new earth, where the dwelling place of God will again be with men as it was in the beginning, where we will be known to be His people and He our God, where every tear will be wiped away and there will no more be death, sorrow, crying or pain because all things have been made new and that which was has now passed away. In short, a restoration of all things to its pristine pre-fall condition or paradise.
I would like to develop the themes that are contained in this introduction. While I am most certainly not trying to pretend that I have all the answers for the many questions that will inevitably emanate from all of this, the topic is central to my own journey. In this regard I hitch my wagon to St Augustine’s horses when he said: "Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand."