Abraham, at 75 years of age was called by God to leave the land of his nativity and go to a country he would show him (Genesis 12:4). “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).”
“By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.” (Hebrews 11:8) For most of the rest of his life he lived in the land God had promised without actually owning any of the land. During a famine he did live in Egypt for a time, still an alien in a foreign land. God blessed him abundantly in all this time. He became very prosperous, but this was not what Abraham was looking for. He was looking for something greater.
For what was he looking? What did he expect to find? He must have had some reason for persisting in this sojourn in a land that was not his own. The writer of the Hebrew letter tells us why he persisted – why he didn’t give up and go back to the country from which he originally came. “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
In Abraham’s time cities and city builders did not have a very high standing insofar as God was concerned. One account of men building of a city – Babel, with its tower, of course – just before we are introduced to Abraham – is a notable example of God’s displeasure with man’s endeavors as planners and builders of cities.
God had commanded the descendants of Noah to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). Obviously he intended that the original project for creation be put back on track. But the people who settled in Shinar seemed not to take God’s instructions seriously. Instead of scattering as God had directed they wanted to keep themselves together and so decided to build a city and a tower to “make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). The city they were building represented man in rebellion against God. For this reason God confused their language and scattered them.
Everywhere we look in the Bible, the cities of men are seen as rebellious and sin ridden. From Enoch, the city Cain built and named after his son (Genesis 4:17), to Nineveh, Sodom and Gomorrah, Babylon, and Rome – all these are notorious for their wickedness and oppression of God’s people.
Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century wrote “The City of God” to “explain Christianity’s relationship with competing religions and philosophies, as well as its relationship with the Roman government, with which it was increasingly intertwined … The City of Man, on the other hand, consists of people who have immersed themselves in the cares and pleasures of the present, passing world,” (Wikipedia, City of God), and thus are at enmity with God.
It is no wonder that Abraham shunned the cities of man and kept looking for a better city – a more perfect civilization. He knew there was such a place because he knew what God wanted for man. He knew that God wanted for all his children to live with him and with one another in a place of love and ideal relationship. So he kept looking.
Christians are told, however, that …
“…you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant …” (Hebrews 12:22-24).
The contrast the writer is drawing here is to the giving of the Old Covenant on Mt. Sinai and to the religious system that came from that event with what exists in the present age. They/we have come – presently – to Mt. Zion, (reference is to the temple mount in Jerusalem), and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
This statement indicates a fulfillment of what is stated as the divine purpose in Ephesians 1:10 – the uniting of all things in heaven and on earth in Christ. Here in Hebrews 12:22-24 are seen “angels in a festival gathering, … the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven … to God the judge … to Christ the mediator” and to “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”
This is one of those “now-but-not-yet” situations. We have come – are now “in” in some sense – to the heavenly scene depicted here, and yet we are keenly aware that we have not entered into the things described here in the fullest sense. We now enjoy the blessings of a relationship with the Father and the Son. We share in the blessings of forgiveness by which the righteous were made perfect. There is presently cause and occasions of celebrating with the angels (Luke 15:7-10), but still, with all this, there is also a longing for a fuller experience of all that is yet promised in the New Jerusalem.
This is what hope is about. There are promises we know that have not yet been fulfilled for us. Jesus’ promise in John 14:2-3 for example…
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
No, we will not live in a “mansion.” The KJV has it wrong. We are family – we will live in the Father’s house – the great house in which all the family lives together with him in a perfect family relationship. And we had better get used to the idea of living in this kind of relationship with all our brothers and sisters. There will not be any ghettos in which different races and nationalities and creeds will be sectioned off!
Where will this be? When will it be?
We are privileged to see when and where this will be realized in its fullness in Revelation 20:11-22:5. after the judgment John tells us of the scene of the descent of the New Jerusalem down to the New Earth. This joining of heaven and earth represents the perfecting of God’s good creation and its restoration as the placed where God dwells in ideal relationship with his people. All the blessings that come from relationship with God and all who are his will be enjoyed then and there in that city. All the beauty of golden streets, gates of pearl and walls of precious stones will be but decoration for the celebration that will take place then!
What we must realize is that when the day comes for people to enter into that city to enjoy its blessings forever it will be too late to make preparation. If we expect to live with God and with all whom God will receive to live with him we must make preparation now. If we do not it will be as Jesus said …
“In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28-29).
We have come to the city, but we haven’t yet fully experienced what awaits us in the city. What awaits?
A celebration! A great banquet! A party!
Come along with us! I can hardly wait!