A City for God to Live In

“I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighbourhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” (Rev 21:1- 4 The Message)


This passage was read aloud in a Christian meeting shortly after I had a very stirring sense of God’s longing to make his habitat in our city. I had an undeniable that Jesus longed for his living presence to be experienced everywhere in streets, homes, clubs, offices, schools, factories…

There is an old theological principle, “What is first in intention is last in execution”. God’s first and highest intention in creating was not Eden, nor Israel, but the city that comes down from heaven. He has always been working towards a place he can call home. This central biblical theme[1] has occupied the minds of some of Christianity’s greatest thinkers[2], yet it is largely been ignored in the church today.

City – building though has not escaped the attention of politicians and entrepreneurs. Here in Perth the mining boom has stimulated an ambitious city –river plan that will alter the face of the metropolis forever.[3] WA Premier Alan Carpenter now boasts the name, “Carps the builder”. Since the scripture says, “it is not spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual” (1 Cor 15:46), the hype surrounding us in this capital moves the Spirit to speak about God’s plans for the city. Strikingly, whilst the images of the Perth foreshore plan are glittering emblems to the genius of man, the city God builds is marked by compassion and care. It is a city of refuge rather than a city of (earthly) power[4].

God is looking for a Home

The entire biblical story is about God finding a permanent home[5]. When Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10), he was revealing the passion of the Father to make his home on earth in the same way as he dwells in heaven. The permanent dwelling of God with men is the climax of salvation, “3 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)[6].

Whilst many believers are praying for a “visitation” from God, by which they mean powerful manifestations of revival e.g. healings, conversions, miracles, God is much more interested in creating a habitation for himself. It is not a holiday home he is seeking, but a permanent residence. All history is a trajectory to the city of God (Rev 21- 22).

Some of us have been in nations of the world e.g.Argentina, where there seems to be an almost tangible presence of the Holy Spirit – it feels as if God is living in that place. There is a clear biblical answer to the question of how God makes his habitation in a locality.

Welcoming Jesus

In the Gospels, wherever Jesus is made welcome the power of the kingdom of God comes to rest and people are set free in every way[7]. Most strikingly, this principle is illustrated by the rejection of Jesus in Galilee, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6:3 -6). Where men and women are not hospitable to God, no great thing happens. How then do we welcome Jesus in our own home town?

Here are a few ways. Care for those at the bottom of the social ladder, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)[8]. Provide for those who are suffering, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” (Matt 25:44- 45). Wherever the people of God “do justice, and …love kindness, and …walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8) i.e., live in a heavenly way, God indwells.

Jesus is about building cities of love, if the church in affluent societies is largely not aware of the presence of God in all of life it is because we have not shown Him hospitality. One example springs to mind.

A musician friend said of a certain Christian artist, “he brings you into the Father’s living room”. This creates a very different atmosphere than the dominant performance culture of contemporary church music that seeks to take us into an entertainment centre or theatre complex[9].

Kevin Rudd and Indigenous Australians

The doctrine of terra nullius or “empty land” denied the Indigenous peoples of Australia certain legal rights[10]. In practice, it was a denial of the sovereign and providential divine presence with these peoples over millennia[11]. In rejecting that God was living in the midst of the original humans on this continent, the divine presence was itself rejected.

It is for these reasons that the recent parliamentary apology issued by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to the stolen generations has deep spiritual implications. It is part of a divine move, however indistinctly appreciated, to restore the created dignity of those whom he first led to this continent. It is surely a part of this nation welcoming Jesus as Lord.

The Temple at the Heart of the City

In the Bible’s vision of the End, the city is a temple, for the meaning of a temple is a place for the deity to dwell. “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (Rev 21:22).

A temple complex was a central part of the lay out of all ancient cities. From the temple, surrounded by the worship of his/her devotees, the god would preside over the welfare of the city/nation/empire. Prosperity and victory was attributed to the favour of the god/s, defeat and disaster was a sure sign of their wrath[12]. This is also a biblical principle[13]. The person who occupied the temple controlled the city[14].

According to Paul, the height of the Satanic rebellion against God comes when “the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess 2:3 -4). By entering into the templeof Godthe antichrist claims divine honours and seeks to rule the city of man on behalf of the devil. Satan understands that worship is everything, whatever we worship is God for us[15].

In the days of the early church Jesus identified the place “where Satan dwells”[16] with the imperial cult of the worship of the Roman emperor as God- king. He was a man who received the honour of God because of his ability to bring peace and prosperity to his empire.

Modern Western societies laugh at cultures that make sacrifices to gods and men; but we live in a world where the “bull” is adored and the “bear” brings terror. I am of course referring to the stock market, with its priests of financial advisers, brokers and so on. Men and women live in religious awe of the power of the global financial system. If the antichrist was to manifest himself today, surely he would be revered as the master of the market!

In the midst of the false worship of mammon stands the temple of the true God. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:16- 17)[17]. In every city of man, the church, including the individual believer, is the holy place where God is worshipped in Spirit – truth[18].

The true priesthood of God will never function, as “Christianity” has, like a chaplain to the state[19]. It will not promote a prosperity cult helping believers achieve the goal of Mc Mansions rather than mansions in the sky[20]. It will be primarily concerned that the Father (rather than human “seekers”) who seeks true worshippers (John 4:23) is welcomed and comfortable in our meetings.

A Temple of Jesus Everywhere

If a Christian is the dwelling place of God, the primary vision of the church and its leadership is to see that the presence of God in his temple fills everything[21]. This is a heavenly vision[22] and it touches everything – we are to welcome Jesus into our homes, offices, school rooms, sports clubs, gyms, golf courses, factories, shopping centres, in short, wherever Christians live their lives. In this great endeavour we are all “a kingdom and priests to our God” (Rev 5:10). Every believer has an equal role to play in bringing about the manifestation of heaven upon earth – building the home of God in our midst.

As in all things, the key to this is the elevation of the name i.e. status, reputation, honour, of Jesus in every realm of life. The greater the elevation of Jesus (as we recognise him as the exalted temple in heaven,) the greater the unity and penetrating spiritual power of the people of God on earth.


Can you sense the intense passion in the heart of the Father to make this a city of his habitation? A city of love where crime rates plunge[23] , divorce dives, streets are clean, corruption is rare, physical health improves and the environment is rehabilitated because JESUS IS THERE. A place where you cannot avoid seeing and hearing men, women, youth and children praying and praising God and ministering divine justice and mercy to the needy “as it is in heaven”.

This is a call to every believer to welcome Jesus into their sphere of influence, in the first place by thanking him that he is in sovereign control of their circumstances, then proceeding from there to invite him to dwell more intensely in and through their lives[24] so that a greater measure of the fullness of God penetrate the community about them[25]. Nothing less is what God is seeking in our time, nothing less is worthy of the Lamb who was slain.

[1] E.g. “For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10)

[2] Consider Augustine’s massive The City of God and Calvin’s vision for Geneva as a Christian city.

[3] Search online for Perth waterfront or Elizabeth Quay development. Web pages may move as the development progresses and falls under the control of different authorities. Thhe following link was valid at May 2013:  http://www.mra.wa.gov.au/Projects/Elizabeth-Quay/About-the-Project/

[4] A satirical cartoon appearing in The West Australian mocks the multi-billion dollar project in the light of the crisis in local health care.

[5] In ancient thought a temple, whether we think of the tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, the church as the temple of the Spirit etc. is a place where the deity lives and communes with his worshippers.

[6] This is the end goal of “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

[7] Most strikingly, amongst non–Jewish peoples e.g. Gentiles, Luke 6:17- 19; Samaritans John 4:1- 42.

[8] In the ancient world children (and women) lacked rights and privileges.

[9] The throne room of God is not an exception to this, but another metaphor for the family home of the King.

[10] There is controversy over the use of these terms, but in practice I believe it is indisputable that Australian aboriginal peoples were treated as lacking many human rights.

[11] As in, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26).

12 One motivation behind Augustine’s writing the City of God was a reply to pagan argument that the fall of Rome was a sign of the anger of the old gods at the Empire’s embrace of Christianity.

[13] E.g. “Then he(the king of Moab) took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.” (2 Ki 3:27)

[14] When the priests of the chief Babylonian deity Marduk welcomed the Persian ruler Cyrus to Babylon (539 BC) the fate of the Babylonian empire was sealed.

[15] Hence the central issue between Jesus and the devil in the wilderness, which is framed in terms of earthly glory, “ Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matt 4:8 -11)

[16] In the letter to the church in Pergamum, “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.’” (Rev 2:13). This city was the centre of emperor worship in Asia Minor.

[17] The “you” is plural, referring to the church, and the word for “temple” is naos, used of the inner shrine.

[18] “your (singular) body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor 6:19 cf. John 4:24)

[19] In visiting St Paul’s cathedral London last year I was appalled to see this building filled with monuments to the history of British warfare. It was blatantly a chapel of the British Empire.

[20] ““Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1- 3)

[21] “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.” (Eph 2:19- 22)

[22]“ But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother” (Gal 4:26)

[23] See http://powerfulgroovyyou.wordpress.com/2008/01/31/the-promise-land/ for the story of a Balinese Christian village with zero crime.

[24] This is the meaning of Paul’s prayer, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph 3:17).

[25] Fulfilling the apostolic vision of the church as “his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22)

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