A Biblical Theology of Cities

The Origin of the City

In many ways, we could say that the story of the Bible is the story of two cities. The story begins not really in a city, but in a garden. But it’s as if the spirit of the city of man enters into the

Immediately after Adam and Eve are exiled from it, they have two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain kills his brother Abel and then what does he do? He went away from the presence of the Lord. We read in Genesis 4 that he knew his wife and she conceived and bore Enoch, who built a city.

Why did he build a city when he was trying to escape the presence of the Lord? The Lord had put a mark on him to provide security for him, but he didn’t trust in God’s security. He built a city to try to create his own security. He built a city in which he intended for God to just stay out.

He’s transforming it into a city that he intends to live in forever with his people.

Spread of the City

From Genesis 4, the story of the city really picks up in Genesis 11. It tells us that the people who are supposed to be spreading throughout the earth get to the Plains of Shinar and are settled there. They begin to build a city. In fact, they wanted to build a tower that would take them up to God. They’re out to make a name for themselves.

This is the spirit of the city of man: I don’t need God, I don’t need his glory. I’ll just make my own glory. Of course, we know what happens there. This city becomes the city called Babel. But throughout the Bible, Babel—that very nature of a city that’s all about human strength and human glory—evolves into what becomes Babylon: the city that is set against God and set against God’s people.

God’s Dwelling Place

There is another city established: the city of Jerusalem. This is a city on a hill. It’s meant to be the place of God’s dwelling among his people. But as we trace the story of this city of God on earth, it’s a terrible story.

God had come down to dwell in the temple, but the temple becomes sullied. The people of Jerusalem do terrible things. When God comes himself to dwell, he’s in the city of Jerusalem in the person of Jesus Christ. And what happens? He is put to death. He is crucified. He is rejected.

So there’s a sense in which it’s not only just the city of Man exemplified throughout the Bible as Babylon but even Jerusalem itself. Certainly, the earthly Jerusalem is rejected but that’s where the story of the heavenly Jerusalem—the New Jerusalem—picks up.

Even Better than Eden

Nancy Guthrie

Tracing 9 themes throughout the Bible, this book reveals how God’s plan for the new heaven and the new earth, far better than restoration to Eden, is already having an impact in the world today.

A New City

In the New Testament, the earthly city of Jerusalem seems to fade from the picture. But over and over again in the New Testament, it becomes all about the New Jerusalem. In fact, that’s how the Bible story ends here in Revelation 21 when John writes that he sees a new heaven and a new earth come down.

He says, “I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” God is clearly, throughout the Bible story, taking this thing called the city that was created to keep him out and like everything else in the world, and he’s making it new. He’s transforming it into a city that he intends to live in forever with his people—a city with high walls, a city that will be secure, a city that will be filled with all the people whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.

This is the city that you and I want to have our roots in; this is the city we want to live in forever.

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