Because cities are sometimes synonymous with evil and corruption, poverty and injustice, we tend to overlook the significance of the City of Zion or the heavenly Jerusalem of which the Bible speaks.
In Isaiah 60 we read: Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn (Isaiah 60:1-3).
Isaiah was speaking first to the Jewish people whose city had been destroyed in 586BC and who were exiled in Babylon. Here he assures them that their darkness and despair would give way to light and hope, for God would establish his City.
Historically Isaiah’s words were fulfilled when in 520BC Cyrus the Mede who had defeated the Babylonians, decreed that the Jewish exiles be permitted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it.
But Isaiah was also pointing to a time when God’s rule would come down to earth: God would bring in a whole new order, a new creation. He speaks of the time of God’s righteous reign and the glory of a new and lasting city where God himself would fill the city with the light of this presence.
In Genesis 1 we read that thick darkness covered the earth, but God’s light overcame it. Here in Isaiah 60 darkness is a metaphor for moral evil and spiritual blindness. Light is a picture of God’s coming to rescue his people.
Furthermore, God’s light will shine world-wide: Nations shall come to your light (60:3), and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Those who refuse to turn to God will perish (60:12).
It is one of the ironies of history that the power of Rome that crucified Jesus in the first century, capitulated to him in the fourth, when the emperor Constantine was baptized. Human kingdoms will fail and, while they might amass wealth, they will lay it down again at the feet of the King of kings.
Isaiah’s words are inspiring and encouraging. But how much more should they encourage us, who live on the other side of the coming of God’s King. With his coming we see in greater detail that God’s reign amongst his people happens in two stages – Stage 1, with the incarnation of God’s Son, the Messiah, a descendent of King David; Stage 2, with the return of the King, Jesus, in all his majestic glory.
A future city. At one level we see that Jerusalem is a city of bricks and mortar — a city in history. At another level we see Zion as a glorious everlasting City with its inhabitants gathered by God to be with him forever: You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob (60:16).
There are times in life when we are tempted to ask, ‘What’s the point of going on? What’s the point of raising a family? What’s the point of praying and going to church? Whatever I do is pointless.’
By way of answer, Isaiah uses the language of the first city of Jerusalem to point us to our ultimate destiny. Believing people from all ages, from all nations, will one day be beneficiaries of God’s promises to Abraham, Moses and David. People will be drawn from every generation, from every corner of the world to be with him in the City he has created.
Revelation 21:1-3 picks up the imagery: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…”
This is our destiny — a City, a new Jerusalem, with countless throngs of people; a City where there will be meaningful relationships and social structure, and even work to do; a city where there will be no more grief; and above all, a city where God himself will be seen to be with his people. It is an awesome and exciting picture.
But we need to be realistic: God’s new Jerusalem will only be brought in through his intervention. The new city lies on the other side of a cosmic discontinuity which God must bring about. Only then will his people be delivered from the tragic consequences of the present world.
In this meantime we need to be biblical followers of Jesus Christ. What we do in this world has significance; what we do in this world can change things; what we do in the service of Christ in this world lasts. When we know that, we know why we work, why we try to improve the world: all of our work has a place in God’s new order and will be made a part of the City that he will build.
This is the hope Isaiah encourages us to embrace when he says, Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
© John G. Mason, Anglican Connection
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