Revelation is a tale of two cities. I just finished teaching a three-week summer session of New Testament Survey, which culminated in reading the book of Revelation overnight. As I read through this enigmatic book in a very short period of time, I was struck by the contrast it makes between two cities.
On the one hand is Babylon. The wicked city. The city that embodies all opposition to Christ and his kingdom. That timeless city of evil.
In Revelation, the might of Babylon puts to death the followers of Jesus and becomes drunk on the blood of the martyrs. The first readers of Revelation would have certainly seen Rome reflected in the descriptions of Babylon. We can see many other historical and current nations reflected there as well. In the future, a great city or nation may well arise that plays the role of Babylon.
But identifying precisely which nation “Babylon” refers to is not the main point. Revelation speaks of Babylon to unmask the forces of evil. They look so powerful, so alluring, so unstoppable. But Babylon is wicked. And it will fall. Revelation devotes a solid chunk of poetry to describing Babylon’s destruction (see chapters 18-19).
And one of the major reasons for which Revelation is written is to call us out of the wicked city. If we read the descriptions of Babylon and see our own nation reflected, we are called to acknowledge our nation for what it is. Insofar as we find ourselves colluding with the Babylons of the earth, we are called to step away. To exit the wicked city:
“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Rev. 18:4–5)
Where do we go once we have exited the wicked city? Into the other great city in Revelation: the New Jerusalem. This is our true home. It’s the city we were made to live within. It’s where our true citizenship lies.
Revelation 21–22 offer a description of this city that has brought tears to the eyes of weary and oppressed Christians for centuries. No more sin. No more death. No more tears. There is no temple, because God is dwelling directly with his people. There is no sun, because God himself is the light of that glorious place.
Though these two cities are in conflict throughout the book of Revelation, there is only one city left standing at the end of the book. And we are called to enter it:
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” (Rev. 22:14)
Revelation would have us take stock of our allegiance. When you look at your life, do you conduct yourself as a citizen of Babylon or of the New Jerusalem? Do you spend more time in the wicked city or the heavenly city? To the extent that the nation in which you live embodies the descriptions of Babylon, have you “come out of her”? When you examine your deepest longings and commitments, have you “washed your robes” that you may “enter the [heavenly] city by the gates”?
Ultimately, there are only two cities in this world. Eventually, there will be only one. According to Revelation, the city you choose makes all the difference.