After the kingdom of Israel divides in I Kings 12, Jeroboam wishes to restrict travel between the northern kingdom and Judah. He forbids travel to Jerusalem, hoping to create new holy cities in the north. Some forsake the north to worship in Jerusalem during the times of Asa, but the separation of holy cities remains even to the days of Jesus when the woman at the well asks Jesus where God desires worship. She is concerned that she worship from a location approved of by God, but Jesus redirects her attention from the physical to the spiritual.
Augustine’s City of God
About 300 years after the time of Christ, Constantine professed to convert to Christianity. One year later, the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity in Rome. In 380 CE, the Edict of Thessolonica made Christianity the state religion of Rome. In short, it made Rome into a “Christian nation.” This was a drastic departure from polytheism. Rome was sacked in 410 CE, a mere thirty years after becoming an officially Christian nation, causing many to decry the conversion from polytheism to Christianity.
Around this time, St. Augustine wrote, in The City of God, that official state religions mean nothing to the message of the gospel. He discourages Christians from becoming entangled in secular politics, for God’s kingdom, New Jerusalem, is a spiritual entity. It is unsurprising that St. Augustine’s message was unpopular then, and it is unpopular now. He is, however, entirely correct.
God’s City of Jerusalem
In Deuteronomy 12:5, Moses tells the people of the importance of God’s physical city that would become the center of Jehovah worship in the ancient kingdom of Israel. In verse 11, Moses goes on to emphasize that sacrifice should only be made in the place God chooses. Moses is telling the people that there will be a city of God, a place significant and special to worshiping Jehovah. We know that Jerusalem becomes that city.
In II Samuel 6, the Ark of the Covenant comes to the city of Jerusalem, and I Kings 9 records Solomon praying to God to hollow the temple at Jerusalem, God promising to consecrate the place forever. The sons of Korah, in Psalm 46, express confidence of God’s divine protection over the land. Psalm 48:1-3 again expresses the majesty and beauty God’s people see in His city, as do Psalms 122, 46, and 132.
Jerusalem represents a place where God’s name and His Ark resides. It is the place of God’s worship. It is where He dwells. It is a city of rest, of refuge, of holiness, and of peace.
Abandoning the Physical
This changes in the days of Jeremiah, when, in chapter 26 of his book, God promises to destroy the city, that He will curse the city for their sins. Political and religious leaders of Jerusalem threaten death to him for his words, but Jeremiah continues to press them for repentance. Jerusalem’s glory would never be restored, and memories of Zion are recoded in Psalm 137, expressing pain and sorrow at the loss of God’s holy city.
No great city or nation can be saved simply by calling themselves a “Christian” city or nation. To do so is to forget the lessons of Jerusalem and to forget that God does not intend to dwell here with us on Earth. Rather, He wants us to dwell with Him in heaven, leaving this physical world behind for a spiritual inheritance.
In Isaiah 65:17, the prophet proclaims a New Jerusalem, new heavens and a new land. Galatians 4:21-31, Hebrews 12:18-24, II Peter 3:8-12 – these point to something beyond this physical world. This is the city of God on which we need to focus. We get caught up looking upon the nations of man. It does not matter if it is Jerusalem, Rome, Paris, Moscow, or Washington D.C. Cities of man will always fall. Our refuge, rest, and peace should be found only in God’s City. Philippians 3 calls on us to place our citizenship in Heaven. We need to look up from the conflicts of this world and look heavenward.
lesson by Tim Smelser