Two Cities

The Book of Revelation often uses several terms and images to portray the same reality. For example, the people of God are called the “servants of God,” the “saints,” and the “brethren.” Churches are represented by “lampstands” and “Two Witnesses,” and the cosmic conflict between the “Dragon” and the “Lamb” is presented by comparing two very different “cities.”

The Book communicates symbolically, employing symbols that represent definite realities but are not themselves real. It often uses more than one image to picture the same thing, and these images become incompatible and even senseless if we insist on taking them literally. And Revelation is not shy about using mixed metaphors.

Lightning over Bangkok - Photo by Dominik QN on Unsplash
[Photo by Dominik QN on Unsplash]

For example, the community of overcoming saints is described as the “
Holy City” and the “Bride of the Lamb.” To the Assembly in Philadelphia, Jesus promised to make overcoming saints “pillars in the Sanctuary of my God” in the “City, New Jerusalem that is descending from God” - (Revelation 3:12).

However, before “New Jerusalem” descends as a “Bride without spot or wrinkle,” she must undergo persecution and bear witness to the “Inhabitants of the Earth.” Her “descent” is both a process and an event.

An angel commanded John to “measure” the “Sanctuary,” the “Altar,” and the priests who were “rendering divine service” to prepare the city for habitation. However, the “Holy City” would be handed over first to the “nations” and “tread upon for forty-two months” - (Revelation 11:1-2).

The “Two Witnesses” and the “Two Lampstands” represent the same reality. They testified over the same period of “forty-two months” until they were killed by the “Beast from the Sea,” and in the Book, “lampstands” represent churches.

Thus, the “Holy City” is a metaphor for the people of God as they bear witness and suffer persecution. The same attack against the saints is pictured again when Satan is released from the “Abyss” to gather all the nations “from the four corners of the Earth” in his final attempt to annihilate the “camp of the saints, the beloved city” - (Revelation 11:3-7, 20:9).

After the final judgment, John saw the “Holy City…descending from Heaven.” The Greek term translated as “descending” represents a verb in the present tense, signifying an action in progressThus, John saw the “City” as it “descended” toward the Earth.

The “City” appeared as a “Bride adorned for her husband.” It was also called the “Sanctuary of God,” an example of mixed metaphors applied to the one people of God. It was called “New Jerusalem,” and God intends for it to be inhabited by His people.

When it descends, He will “make all things new.” The “Holy City” is coterminous with the New Heavens and the New Earth, which will be inhabited by the saints when they “inherit all these things.” The physical dimensions of the “City” are enormous. It lies “foursquare” with its length, width, and height measuring “twelve-thousand furlongs” in each direction - (Revelation 21:1-9).

The impossibly large size of “New Jerusalem” signifies that it is designed to be inhabited by the innumerable multitude of saints redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb” – (Revelation 7:9-17).


Babylon” is introduced as the “Great City,” the place where the “dead bodies” of the “Two Witnesses” are left lying for three days. It is described as “spiritually, Sodom and Egypt” where the “Lord was crucified.”

Not only is it the place where the righteous are slain, but it is “unclean” because of the blood spilled on its streets, and because it is the dwelling place of demons – (Revelation 11:9-13). Later, an angel pronounced the fall of the “Great City”:

  • Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, for she has made all the nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”

Consequently, the “winepress” of God’s wrath is “trodden” underfoot outside her walls, producing “blood…as far as sixteen-hundred furlongs,” another impossibly large figure. Just as the “nations trampled the Holy City underfoot,” so, “Babylon” is “trodden” down in judgment and retribution for her crimes against the saints - (Revelation 14:8-20).

When the “Seventh Bowl of Wrath” was emptied, the “Great City, Babylon” fell along with the “cities of the nations…and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.” The verbal parallels demonstrate that this vision portrays the same reality as the previous vision of the “winepress of God” that was “trodden” outside the City’s walls.

It was at this moment when “every island fled, and the mountains were not found,” as the entire Earth was shaken, and “great hail” fell upon the “Inhabitants of the Earth.” Effectively, “Babylon” was coterminous with the Earth since every “Inhabitant of the Earth” dwelt within her walls – (Revelation 16:19-21).

Next, John saw the “Great City” as a whorish figure in contrast to the “Holy City,” the “Bride of the Lamb.” She was “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and the abominations of the Earth.” She seduced the “Inhabitants of the Earth” to commit “fornication” – idolatry - and she was “drunk with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.”

She was in the “wilderness,” the same place where God “nourished” the “woman clothed with the sun” after she gave birth to the Messianic “Son.” Thus, for a time, the two cities occupied the same time and space - (Revelation 12:1-17, 17:1-6).

John also saw “Babylon sitting on many waters,” an image symbolizing “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.” She also rode the “Beast with ten horns” since she was the “Great City” that reigned over the “Kings of the Earth.” The key to her influence is her economic control, and her power over the nations depends on global commerce - (Revelation 17:15-18:9).


Contrary to her claims, Jesus is the true “Ruler of the Kings of the Earth,” not “Babylon.” He is the Messianic “Son” who inherits sovereignty over the nations. Whatever the “Kings of the Earth” may intend, the “Lamb” is the “King of kings,” and he uses them to accomplish his purposes.

Thus, they will learn to “hate the harlot,” and turn against her. She will be “burned utterly with fire.” Therefore, “in one hour her judgment will come… in one hour she will be made desolate.”

At the end of her corrupt reign, a “strong angel” took a “great millstone” and cast it into the Sea, and so, “Babylon, the Great City, was cast down and found no more at all.” In contrast, the saints will dwell in “New Jerusalem” forevermore with the “Lamb” as they worship before the “Throne.”

Toronto Dawn - Photo by Yalın Kaya on Unsplash
[Photo by Yalın Kaya on Unsplash]

The “
Holy City of New Jerusalem” represents both the people of God and their final habitation in the “New Heavens and the New Earth.” In contrast, the “Great City, Babylon” symbolizes humanity in its opposition to Jesus and his people, especially in the economic sphere though not exclusively so. Her inevitable end will be utter destruction.

Neither “city” is limited to a specific geographical location. “Babylon” holds sway wherever the “Inhabitants of the Earth” are located. Likewise, the Holy City of “New Jerusalem” will encompass the entire New Earth after it completes its “descent” from Heaven to the Earth. However, already it is “descending” wherever the faithful followers of Jesus gather and proclaim his Sovereignty and Gospel.

  • The City of Abraham - (New Jerusalem will be populated to fulfill the promise to bless all nations through Abraham– Revelation 21:24-22:5)
  • Redeeming the Nations - (The nations and the Kings of the Earth are found in the City of New Jerusalem because of the redeeming work of the Lamb)
  • Message and Mission - (Jesus summoned his disciples to proclaim the Good News of his Kingdom to every inhabited corner of the Earth)



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