Jerusalem to Antioch: Cities with Different Foundations
For some years a number years of us have believed that it is God’s will to establish a 24/7 house of prayer in the city of Perth. My experience of such a prayer centre in Kansas City (2007) confirmed the revelatory power of God’s presence in an atmosphere of continuous praise, prophecy and petition. I was therefore pleased recently to attend a dinner dedicated to the launching of a united house of prayer. The venue was a restaurant in King’s Park whose windows offer a spectacular view of the Perth skyline. The meal was excellent and the fellowship very sweet. Several talks were offered towards the end of the evening encouraging leaders in prayer and unity to seek the Lord about launching United House of Prayer Perth. My prayerful reflections on what the Spirit is saying about this venture appear below.
Jerusalem to Antioch
It has been prophesied that Perth’s destiny is to be an “Antioch city”; as Antioch was the sending base for the gospel spreading across Asia Minor into Europe (Acts 13:1-3), we are called to be a pioneering hub for global mission. As a prosperous multicultural city facing the Indian Ocean and on the same time zone as E. Asia such a vocation is unsurprising. But why are we not already an “Antioch city” and what does the New Testament teach about how God raises up such cities through prayer?
The two dominant cities in the progress of Christ’s kingdom in Acts are Jerusalem and Antioch. Jerusalem is where the Lord was crucified and raised, and the location of the first outpouring of the Spirit. Yet from Acts chapter 12 Jerusalem ceases to feature as a sending city, and the gentile metropolis of Antioch becomes the catalyst of the great missionary journeys of Paul and his apostolic teams. “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers… While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:1-3 ESV).
What happened to the Jerusalem Church to impede their obedience to the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19)? As I prayed into this last Monday night I felt the Lord speaking about a shaking and shifting of foundations.
Foundations of Earth
The turning point from a local mindset Church to a global vision can be traced back to the martyrdom of Stephen. “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:19- 21 ESV. It is Stephen’s sermon that holds the key to the creation of an “Antioch Church”.
That Stephen’s speech is the longest in Acts is a sign of its pivotal significance. It is given at a trial where he is charged with preaching that Jesus will destroy the temple and abolish the Law of Moses (Acts 6:13-14 cf. Matt 26:59-61). His sermon climaxes with a citation from Isaiah to the effect that the Jerusalem temple as a centre of devotion has been rendered irrelevant to God’s purposes, “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’” (Acts 7:49-50 ESV cf. Isa 66:1-2) The hearers were so incensed with this dismantling of their spiritual identity that they set upon Stephen; to stone him “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”” (Acts 7:55-56 ESV). Stephen was killed for identifying the resting place of God’s glory as being the heavenly Christ, and no longer the holy of holies on earth.
Unlike Stephen, the Church in Jerusalem was bound by their attachment to the temple and the Law. They met regularly in the temple courts (Acts 2:46; 5:42), a “great many of the (practicing) priests” became believers (Acts 6:7), they remained “zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20), even to the point of vows and sacrifices (Acts 21:17-26; cf. Num 6:13-21). Jerusalem based Christianity became a dead end because its foundational identity was based on earthly things; when God’s Spirit moved forward in mission this church remained grounded and irrelevant to the spread of the gospel. The lesson is plain; any group of believers focussed on what is accessible to natural vision and tradition, including church programmes, buildings and inward growth is a “Jerusalem church”. “Antioch” is vastly different.
Foundations of Heaven
The scripture I felt the Lord gave to me to begin to understand the dynamic of Antioch is from Exodus 24, “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up (Sinai), and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.” (Exodus 24:9-11 ESV). Without the assistance of priest, sacrifice or temple, ordinary Jewish leaders reached the pinnacle of religious experience, they saw and fellowshipped with God in a state of complete security. They were able to see God for the foundation of heaven was completely transparent. Other apocalyptic visions of the throne room of God testify to the transparency of the heavenly world.
Ezekiel sees God seated over a crystalline dome (Ezek 1:22), John witnesses that “before the throne (in heaven) there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.” (Revelation 4:6 ESV cf. 15:2; 21:8, 21). To prophetic sight the foundation of heaven is transparent from the earth below. This means God is visible to us and the glory which surrounds his throne can radiate from heaven to earth. Light can shine directly from the city of God above onto any city below (Heb 12:22-24). It is this radiating rainbow presence of God (Ezek 1:28; Rev 4:3) beamed from heaven to earth that transforms a “Jerusalem” church/city into an “Antioch city/church” mobile with the glory of God.
Looking Into Heaven
The essential difference between a “Jerusalem city/church” and an “Antioch city/church” concerns the plane of vision. Churches which emphasise being “born again” as the foundation for the Christian life belong to the former, for Jesus said to Nicodemus about this, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12 ESV). Preachers who expound the “five-fold ministry” (Eph 4:11) without grounding their theme in the ascended Christ (Eph 4:10) place the focus of authority on the earthly instead of the heavenly plane. This is not abstract theology.
In my trip to America I visited a 24/7 prayer house in Colorado which was spiritually in ruins. The entrance hall was prominently lined with the names and photographs of notable Christian men and women who had lent their support and influence to the venture at its founding. No wonder the angel of the Lord had disembowelled it! Strong language, but no stronger than the testimony of scripture (Heb 12:25-29). But I must move on the true pinnacle of this teaching.
Building from the Centre
As the church in Antioch was planted by certain nameless believers (Acts 11:20), so must the foundation for a genuine united 24/7 house of prayer in Perth be laid. This is why many of us believe that the prayer centre must be circular in shape. Such a geometric form bears a single centre (Christ) from which every edge (person) is equidistant. I see a vast army of nameless and faceless believers coming together to create a hub of prayer for mission to the glory of God. Each brings in themselves something of the light of Christ. These are folk devoid of any human identity, profile and influence which might obscure the radiant pure radiance of the world above. These are the men and women who together will make up the city of light (Matt 5:14). This is what it means to build upon the clarity of the crystal clear pavement of heaven.
The pattern for our building is created by the vision that the one true house of prayer is a building in the heavens not made with hands; the temple of Christ’s body (John 2:18-22 cf. Isa 56:7). The true and continuous house of prayer is the ascended Jesus, who “always lives to make intercession for us” (Heb 7:25 cf. Ex 25:40)
How will all this come to pass? I do not know, for if I could specify in detail I would be contradicting the very centre of this message.
 When John Glenn the American astronaut traversed space in 1962 he nicknamed Perth, “The city of light.”