Cities of Mud

By Graham Keelan

“We have a strong city,
He sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks
Open the gates
That the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in” (Is 26:1-2)

The Bible is a tale of two cities: of their kingdoms, their peoples and the war between them. Two cities destined to rule the world: one, forged from the precious stones of Eden in the fire of an eternal flame, the other, from the clay pits of the Fertile Crescent in the furnaces of the damned; one, guided by the loving hand of heaven, the other, governed by the godless voices from hell: the two cities that guide the destiny of the human race in every age, to which all the sons and daughters of Adam in every generation must pledge an allegiance, from the first to the last. All heavenly and earthly peoples will play their part in this epic war.

Over the ages since Eden, Babylon has danced her way across the world in a great extravaganza of sin and, as we see today, covers the planet in a twinkling mosaic of lights that reaches into heaven: temples of learning, palaces of plenty, skyscraper cities of mud. Nevertheless, we know from the Bible that a war is coming; a war like no other; an awful war; a war beyond our imaginings; a war to end all wars: a time of tribulation, Jesus warns, that has never been since there was a nation upon earth and never will be again. All the blood shed through all the hatred of past ages will seem only a pinprick as the rivers flow and the seas rage with the crimson waters of the slain, both man and beast. The heavens themselves are torn asunder, day and night thrown into confusion. Earth shakes. Stars fall. Angels battle. Worlds collide. Vast tracts of the planet are laid waste, city and forest, scorched under the fire of a searing sun and devouring flame, the Babylonian civilization which has lighted the earth burned to the ground in a conflagration of divine wrath.

The population of mankind is much more than decimated. It is a holocaust of unparalleled proportions, of unimaginable horrors. One third of Adam’s race is put to the sword. The cities of mud, once proud and lofty, glow like crematoria, their stench of burning humanity filling the nostrils and thickening the air. Entire countries, green and fertile, are turned into crushing graveyards of rotting and putrefying corpses as the earth erupts in vengeance, the dead too numerous to bury. Nations rage. Kingdoms totter. This is the war of fulfillment, the war of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and John. This is the epic battle of Obadiah and Amos, Joel and Zechariah. It is that which brings to an ignominious end the ‘times of the Gentiles’, the Beast of the Empires, the terror and tyranny of the Oppressors. It is the war of the Great Dragon, the war of wrath, the war between Heaven and Earth.

And yet as this story has unfolded we see that at the centre of this epic, this long human drama, this unspeakable tragedy, has stood God’s eternal city, as a prop bolted to the stage, an immovable backdrop of divine purpose. It is left to men to enter the scene at the promptings of the script, or the rousing of the orchestra, or the call of the Director. But it is only ever a fleeting, momentary appearance, the briefest of times under the lights. His exit into the shadows is assured and his moment of decision passes. In the end the applause is not his. The long line of actors snakes through time, into the past, into the future. The dressing rooms are hastily emptied, the furniture quickly rearranged, the vanity mirrors promptly wiped clean, only to await the next party of performers granted their roles in the great story. To be invited for the encore is the ultimate aspiration, to hear that golden dong summoning the elect, when those fifteen minutes of fame are granted an eternal reprieve. The show is destined to go on.

The story of Jerusalem begins in the Bible with Abraham and Melchizedek. It begins with the Jews and their covenant with the stars, that mystical unbreakable bond between Heaven and Earth. And yet, the city at which Abraham’s eyes had first alighted, a city of dusty streets, hewn stone and mud-brick houses, was nothing like the one he would eventually inherit; a city of ruby towers and rainbow walls, of crystal gates on a sapphire rock. But then God had always set out to give him that which was beyond what he could ask or think. This was His deal, after all.

For this reason Jerusalem was always more than a city. It is the surety of an agreement between God and all the righteous sons and daughters of mankind. It is the rod that the Shepherd and Judge will use to divide the nations, the sheep from the goats. It is the cup of destiny and wrath from which all nations must drink and stagger. And as the night and terror descended upon Abraham and his silent starlit sacrifice, so is this the city rising out of the ashes of hatred and annihilation. This city is the midnight hour which, in the end, must come upon all the sons and daughters of Adam, when the trumpet is blown and the herald announces, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh”, the hour when her shame is banished and widowhood forgotten, when the wife deserted in death is swept up again into the everlasting arms of her lovelorn husband. To reject Jerusalem, therefore, is to reject the very redemption that has been secured for all mankind. It is the city of decision. And it is the multitudes in the valley of decision, in the Valley of Israel, who usher in the dawn of a new day: The Day of Visitation – a day of darkness and thick clouds, a day of wrath and destruction, a day of awful and bloody sacrifice. But, at the last, a day of deliverance and a day of new fire, when the veil that is spread over all nations will be swallowed up, when all the righteous children of Adam will be ushered through the dazzling white pearl portals of the technicolor stones, to walk on the streets made of gold, to sit by the river whose streams make glad, to bask in the light of a new age, in the glory of the everlasting city of God.

[Graham  is a guest-lecturer at Carmel Bible College, Bristol, UK]

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