A vision of two cities

John Coulson, Deputy Principal and Academic Dean

Recently I have been reading, and meditating and praying from, Isaiah 24-27, sometimes called Isaiah’s “Apocalypse.” While there is little that is fully apocalyptic about these chapters, they are certainly eschatological, describing worldwide divine judgment and salvation at the end of history.

By God’s Spirit Isaiah provides for his own people a vision of the future that will enable them, if they desire, to walk in God’s ways through the troublesome times in which they are living—with ungodly living, social injustice, and the advance from the north of the powerful Assyrian empire.

Isaiah’s vision focuses on two cities: the city that God will devastate (Isa 24:10, 25:2, 12; 26:5; 27:10), and the city that he will establish—Mount Zion (24:23; 25:6-7, 10; 27:13), Jerusalem (24:23; 27:13). The former city is what people have established apart from God, a culture where they have “transgressed [his] laws, violated [his] statutes, broken the everlasting covenant” (24:5). This city will be condemned by God; it has no future. God’s city is established by him, a “strong city” (26:1) where he reigns (24:23) and where he “will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples” (25:6), where he “will swallow up death for all time” (25:8), where his people will live (26:1-4) and worship him (25:9; 27:13).

I have been deeply challenged by Isaiah’s vision. Do I “see” the two cities? And what city am I living for? Will I be enticed by the city without God, and live for what it offers me? Will I be intimidated by it, and retreat into a defensive mindset that disengages from the world? No! Or will I believe that there is another city to come, and invest my whole life living for that city—the city whose citizens have been redeemed by the blood of God’s Son (Heb 13:12-14; Rev 5:9-10), the city that surely will come because he rose again and will come again (Rev 1:5-8), and that will never be shaken because it is his city (Isa 26:1; Ps 46:4-7)? Yes! That’s what I want to do.

But how do I live for God’s city? Isaiah’s vision is of a people of faith, hope, obedience, earnest prayer, praise, and the desire to glorify God (24:14-16; 25:1-5, 9; 26:2-4, 7-9, 12-19; 27:13). They are under pressure in the world and experience God’s purifying discipline (27:7-11). But they persist in God’s way and eventually become the fruitful vineyard he called them to be for the sake of the world (27:2-6; cf. Isa 5:1-7). The apostle Paul puts it this way: “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess 2:12). Let’s live for God’s city.

John is teaching Isaiah 40-55 this semester. He recommends the following commentaries: Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah [IVP, 1993]; John Oswalt, Isaiah [NIV Application Commentary; Zondervan, 2003.