Learning the Bible, certain phrases or clauses tend to stand out in one’s mind. At the time I left the world of Wall Street finance, I happened to quote Genesis 22:8 in the earshot of my dad. Although it was not in the context of the passage, he could never get, “God will provide,” out of his mind.
Whenever my parents worried about my growing family and failing finances, that clause would kick in to my dad’s memory, and he would smile and chuckle, “Well, I guess, the Lord will provide.” I smiled and chuckled, too, when I thought about a father and son four thousand years ago, who needed to encourage one another with those same words. That clause was comfort for my dad’s fears. It made me think about how God’s Word is powerful, even at the level of phrases and clauses.
My mother passed away in 2020 at the age of ninety-one years, and she needed the encouragement of God’s provision, too, right up until she graduated to glory. While Americans spend billions to dote on mom for Mother’s Day, I could honestly say to my mom, “Silver and gold I have none, but what I do have, I give to you.” What I had to give her was a priceless clause. You might think I was a cheapskate for not giving my mom more of this world, but at her age and state near the end, she needed hope for the world to come. She needed talk of heaven and the New Jerusalem, for, “she is our mother” (Gal 4:16).
Paul wrote to the Galatians early in his missionary ministry to encourage the brethren there. They had perplexed the great apostle. Legalistic Judaizers, one form of false teacher in the early church, had entered and persuaded the church to deviate from what Paul had taught them. These false teachers had stolen grace from this flock of God’s children. Christ plus the Law was their false alternative to the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the one and only Gospel of grace, does not include works of the Law for justification. Right standing before God is completely imputed by grace.
To illustrate this point, the apostle painted a vivid picture of distinction in Galatians 4:21–31. He described two very different cities with the name “Jerusalem.” Now, Jerusalem is a name on infamous par with Rome or Babylon. A whole history is encompassed in the names of these cities. Babylon had been the iconic name for the city of man. It was wicked and worldly. Rome was the Babylon of the New Testament era writers. When making mention of Rome, hence, the Roman Empire, they would sometimes substitute the name “Babylon.” To disrespect the worldly city was like disrespecting your mom. You might get fed to the lions for doing it.
Babylon is the great city of Revelation. It is reflective of its predecessor’s namesake, “Babel” (Gen 11). When Christians speak of end things, the whore of Babylon from Revelation 17–18 must be included. Our interest here is not eschatological interpretation, but it is on identifying Babylon as the icon of the world system.
Just as empires were identified with their capitol cities, so the entire world system of government, economics, society, culture, and military intrigue can be summed up in the term “Babylon.” She is, “Mystery Babylon,” for her illustrious vocation. For the Christian, who is not of this world, Babylon is not our mother.
Jerusalem is the name of the city dear to every Jewish heart. In one sense, all of Jewish history is captured with the name. It is the heart of the body of ethnic Israel. It is by name, “the city of Yahweh’s peace.” If anything can be said about Jerusalem, as an historical place, there is no peace. It is a city of strife and conflict. When great battles take place in history, they take on the name of the location in which the fight occurred. “Waterloo” and “Gettysburg” are enough to prove the point. Jerusalem is the battle ground between heaven and earth.
Paul’s illustrative statement to the Galatians would be especially startling to the Jews in the congregation, who were the founding converts. These also would be most subject to the wiles of the Judaizers. The Law of Moses was a precious possession for the Jews. It was as central to their lives as their iconic city, Jerusalem. The promise of peace with Yahweh was in the Law. “Do this and be blessed,” was always on the Jewish mind; but grace came by the Spirit, not by the Law.
By linking Jerusalem to Mount Sinai in Arabia, Paul’s audience would see the connection between the two locales. The Law was given to Moses at Sinai, and four hundred years later, David secured Jerusalem to be capitol city of the sons of Israel. Paul’s Jewish readers were rubbed wrong by the reference to Hagar, the Egyptian handmaid of Sarah. Hagar was given by Sarah to receive a child from her husband Abraham. Hagar brought forth Ishmael, who has been a world of trouble for God’s people ever since.
Equating Hagar and Ishmael to Jerusalem was untenable. So Paul linked them to Mount Sinai first. Hagar was a slave of Abraham and Sarah, who were people of promise. Paul intimation was that Judaism had enslaved itself to the notion of salvation through slavish obedience to the Law. The grace of God and faith of Abraham had been forgotten. Hagar and Ishmael had been kicked out of the family because of Ishmael’s bad behavior toward the son of promise, Isaac.
What hope did these Galatians have by returning to the slave woman? Children of slaves multiply faster than children of promise. This is the nature of the world, and the nature of persecution of God’s children in the world. The Galatians, in what they were doing, would be like Isaac running after Hagar and Ishmael to abode with them. The Galatians’ retro-theology was lunacy in Paul’s view.
Earthly Jerusalem, living under the covenant of Sinai, including the Law of Moses, was slavery. No flesh can be justified by works of the Law. The Law was never intended, by God, to be a means of salvation. Paul tells us the Law was given to expose sin. It even spurred God’s people to sin more! All of this was to show the nature of sin in man. Paul called the Galatians, “foolish.” He would say to us, “Remove your focus from ethnic Israel, its capitol city, its muddled means of salvation, and its hope for a Messianic kingdom in this world.” Jerusalem: this earthly city, she is not our mother.
Has God left us as orphans? May it never be! If Babylon, the great prostitute is not our mother, and if earthly Jerusalem is not our mother, and if we are not left as orphans in the world, then who is our mother?
Mothers are the house of conception. They provide the safe place for nurture and protection. Mothers are vehicles of deliverance. Their influence upon their offspring is second to none. Children run to their mothers for everything. When separated from their mothers, children are fearful.
Paul taught the Galatians about the “Jerusalem above.” John refers to the city of God, in the heavens, as “New Jerusalem” (Rev 3:12; 21:2, 10). The writer of Hebrews refers to this same city as, “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12:22). It is the city of the living God.
We may not think often enough of this celestial capitol city. For the Christian, this is our home. It is the house of our adoption. Although, we have not been home, yet, by reason of our adoption, we call this city our home. It is not of this world, but it is our eternal home. Our citizenship is there, and we are only alien resident ambassadors here.
Having been born again in the house of an ambassador, we carry on the work, until we are finally summoned back to our home country for the first time! While we live as ambassadors in a foreign land, we wear the clothing and have the adornments of our home. We speak the language of home, in the Spirit of home.
Letters from our vibrant capitol city have reached us, and these have increased our longing for the prosperity, the security, and the glories. It is the perfect oenomel. Darkness covers the earth, but our home city, Zion, is the city of Light. It is timeless, eternally classic. At the end of his days, Paul wanted to go home (Phil 1:23). When Jesus went home, He was enthroned in glory. A crown was placed upon His head, and this will be true for all of God’s children. Our Father will throw a banquet, and our mother will embrace us in her environs.
I am blessed in one way because my mother never left my hometown. As she prepared to move, for the first time in five decades, her next residence address was on Mount Zion, that is, New Jerusalem. She had been longing to leave the world for quite some time. The world is a wearisome place. She was waiting for her summons. All the children of God, ambassadors for Christ, are waiting.
The gifts of this world, given in love to our mothers, will all fade or be forgotten. The precious, priceless gift, however, is the Spirit of the city that made us who we are as sons and daughters of God. As adopted children, removed from the house of Babylon for legal reasons, let us never forget, earthly Jerusalem was only our foster home to help us transition to our new life.
When the embassy of heaven opened its doors to us, we were embraced by our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are the church, which is the bride that comes down from heaven to sit as a city on a hill. She is adorned with precious gems, radiant with light, and clothed in white robes of righteousness. This is the city of God, the bride of Christ, the citizenry of heaven. She is our mother.
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 14, 2021