Zion, the City of God, Only For the Penitent

What did the pandemic motivate you to do last year? Some people found that living in their big city was a distinct disadvantage during a pandemic and moved to the suburbs or more rural areas. I have read reports that people moved out of NYC and San Francisco to places like Austin and Seattle. “While it seemed like everyone was staying at home, they were actually moving in even larger numbers than usual. Looking at the number of movers who filed for mail forwarding from February to July 2020, requests are up 3.92% from the same time the previous year. There have been more than 15.9 million requests in 2020. In comparison, there were just over 15.3 million requests during the same period in 2019.” (*) There is one city whose residents will never want to leave; it is God’s City, also known as the City of David—Zion. In the Bible, Zion is mentioned in the OT historical and prophetic books, in Psalms, and a few times in the New Testament. It represents the place of God’s dwelling, where his people arrive upon redemption by Jesus Christ through faith and repentance. “The Bible frequently promises that those who repent—who turn from their sins—will enjoy life forever in God’s presence (Mark 1:14–15; John 3:16; Acts 11:18). If we read the Bible honestly, we cannot miss its repeated calls for repentance…[and] we are warned that those who do not repent are in danger of destruction (Psalm 7:12)…John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles all call for sinners to repent, to turn from their wickedness and follow the Lord.” (1) To become citizens of Zion. “For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord will do this” (2 Kings 19:31). We become Zion’s citizens upon conversion through our repentance and faith in the Messiah. Zion represents God’s dwelling place and presence to the OT saints—and we are “marching to Zion.”

Zion in the Psalms
The Psalms often speak of Zion as God’s holy city, the City of David, and the location of Mt. Zion. “For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it; the offspring of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall dwell in it.” (Psalms 69:35-36) “The Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling” (Ps. 132:13). “Of Zion it shall be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her;’ for the Most High himself will establish her. The Lord records as he registers the peoples, ‘This one was born there.’ (Psalms 87:5) “We can hardly read this without thinking of Hebrews 11:10, which praises Abraham because ‘he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.’ The Hebrews chapter makes clear that it was a heavenly city rather than an earthly residence that Abraham was seeking. So we learn at once that even in Old Testament days the greatest saints did not set their affections on earthly Jerusalem alone, but loved it rather only as a symbol of the greater glories they knew they would enjoy in heaven.” (2) Zion’s residents are those the Lord recognizes as being “born there,” which commentators generally agree refers to the new birth we have in Christ, not our physical birthplace. “But you have come to Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” (Hebrews 12:22-24) There is no perfection or entrance into Zion without repentance. Studying the psalms may give us a greater desire for our own repentance and for others to repent. Hopefully, we will pray even more for individuals and collective repentance and talk about repentance in our witness.

Zion in the Prophetic Books
The prophets mention Zion over one hundred times, of which 48 belong to Isaiah in the ESV translation, starting in the first chapter. “Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness… It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 1:27; 2:2-3, 5) “The blessing of redemption by Christ is the source and foundation of the other blessings of grace…as justification, pardon of sin, and conversion…for by Zion is meant, not a place, but people, even the church and people of God, who frequently bear the name of Zion in this prophecy, and in other passages of Scripture, both of the Old and of the New Testament…for being the object of God’s love, the instance of his choice, the place of his habitation; where his worship is, he grants his presence, and distributes his blessings…Moreover, in the latter day, when there, will be a redemption and deliverance or the church out of all her troubles and distresses, her converts will manifestly appear to be all righteous, being justified with the spotless righteousness of Christ (Isaiah 60:21).” (3) “The judgment [of exile] is not the end of the story; its purpose is to smelt away the dross, i.e., to remove the unbelieving members of the people (called rebels and sinners, those who forsake the Lord). Afterward, what remains will be a chastened people of God, those…who repent (i.e., who embrace their covenant privileges from the heart). The prophet looks forward to a cleansed people after the historical judgment of the exile, restored to its mission…The Temple Mount in Jerusalem [Zion], though unimpressive from the lofty gaze of human religion, was God’s choice and the true hope of the world. [It was] the highest of the mountains…By a miraculous magnetism, a river of humanity will flow uphill to worship the one true God.” (4)

Zion in Revelation
The New Testament has only a few references to Zion; all of them quotations from the Old Testament except for Hebrews 12 and Revelation 14:1, when John “looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” In his vision of Mount Zion, John “…saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’” (Revelation 14:6-7) “Here, the gospel is presented in the form of a call to repent…The coming of Jesus is the good news, calling for repentance and faith. Jesus spoke of the coming ‘kingdom of God’ and the first angel declares that the ‘hour of his judgment’ has come, which amounts to the same thing. He preaches his message to all unbelieving people who ignore Jesus and are comfortable with sin. The angel shows how God calls them all to take notice and heed the message of his Son’s coming. The afflicted Christian church rejoices to know that her enemies either will be converted, joining their own ranks, or will be judged by God so as to deliver his people. Instead of showing indifference to God’s claims, people should take God seriously and grant him the honor he deserves as universal Sovereign…This is basic to the message that Christians speak to the world: ‘There is a God! Grant him the glory he deserves! Appeal to his mercy for the forgiveness of your sins, and then honor him with your lives!’” (5)

God’s Word consistently calls for repentance; His blessings are only for the penitent. Zion, the holy city, will be the permanent residence of believers. But oh, how we pray that our family members, friends, and neighbors will join us there! May our desire for others to repent grow, resulting in more prayers and considered, gentle talk about repentance in our witness. “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28:16; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:6)

Related Scripture: Deuteronomy 28. 30; Psalms 48:28; Ps. 68:15–16; 78:34; Mark 1:14–15; John 3:16; 12:32; Acts 11:18; Revelation 14:1-13.

* https://www.mymove.com/moving/covid-19/coronavirus-moving-trends/
1. Sproul, R. C., Ligonier Ministries, “Repentance Required” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/repentance-required/)
2. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” “Psalm 87, “Zion, City of Our God,” Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
3. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” PASSAGE https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-1.html
4. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 1:24–28, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
5. Phillips, Richard D., Revelation—Reformed Expository Commentary, Revelation 4:6-12, P & R Publishing, 2017.

February 5, 2021

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