John is a binary thinker. The apostle thinks and writes in contrasts. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness (1 John 2:9). No lie is of the truth (1 John 2:21). Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil (1 John 3:7-8). By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:10). Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20). John habitually expresses himself in contrasts of light and darkness; love and hate; life and death; sin and righteousness.
In Revelation, contrast gives way to conflict. The Apocalypse is an unveiling of a conflict stretching from when the morning stars sang for joy until that great day when night will be no more. The Dragon savages a Lamb only to find a Lion. The Lamb who roars and Dragon who spews are each fighting for girl. The Lamb protects his bride; the Dragon pimps his harlot. They each battle for their kingdom. In John’s terminology, they each have their city.
The Dragon has a Great City. The Great City is strong in power. All other kingdoms of earth bow to its authority (Rev. 17:18). The Great City is rich in possessions. The only thing approaching the power of its strength is the intoxication of its wealth. The City controls so much wealth that it controls the very souls of mankind (Rev. 18:12-13). The City is so wealthy, that it has the freedom to determine who else will be wealthy and who will be poor (Rev. 18:19). The City of the Dragon is the incomparable pride of the earth (Rev. 18:18). Whether it is London yesterday; or Washington D.C. today; or Beijing tomorrow, its name is one: Babylon the Great. The power will be overpowered. The luxury will be spoiled. The light will be extinguished. The Great City building itself on oppression and painting itself with blood will be “no more” (Rev. 18:21-24).
The Lamb has a Holy City. The Holy City is rich for what it does not have: no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain, nothing unclean or detestable, nothing false (Revelation 21:2-4, 27). Forever. The Holy City is glorious in splendor not for what is there, but for who is there. God dwells with man (Rev. 21:3). We will see his face (Rev. 22:3-4). After the former things have passed away, the Holy City will stand forever and ever (21:4; 22:5).
The resolution of this conflict awaits its great cataclysmic ending. But the conflict is ongoing. It is the conflict I acutely feel as a pilgrim in America. Which city will I yield my allegiance to? Which city will I orient my life toward? The Great?
Or the Holy?