In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city. In visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. When he brought me there, behold, there was a man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand. And he was standing in the gateway. And the man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.” Ezekiel 40:1-4 ESV
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Revelation 21:9-14 ESV
“Oh, beautiful, for Patriot dream that sees beyond the years.
Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.”
These words come from the American patriotic song “America the Beautiful.” Many Americans love to sing this song, but often they don’t know what these words mean. What are the alabaster cities? In 1893 the city of Chicago hosted a world’s fair, and this fair included a very impressive “White City.” It had statues and columns and buildings in the classical style, as if they had been built in ancient Greece or Rome. Everything was gleaming white as if it were all made of marble, but actually it was only made of cheap wood and some iron covered with something a little like paper mache. The glorious city only lasted six months, and then it was all torn down and taken away. But the author of the song, Katherine Lee Bates, saw the White City, and dreamed of a future in the United States when all its cities would be gleaming white alabaster, and there would be no more poverty or sickness or tears.
God gave the prophet Ezekiel a vision of the city of Jerusalem in the future, and it was a glorious vision of a time to come when everything would be made perfect and beautiful. Ezekiel was given visions of the city and of a wonderful temple, new and glorious. The Lord told Ezekiel to share this vision of hope with the exiles, who were sad and hopeless because they were far from home and their capital city had been destroyed. God promised his people that the city and its temple would be rebuilt and that the people would come home to once again live in the promised land.
The American dream of alabaster cities without tears has never come true. While the exiles would return home to the promised land, the city and temple of Ezekiel’s vision has never been built. But God’s promises always come true. He still promises his people a New Jerusalem, a city not built by human hands, but brought down from heaven by God himself. This is the glorious city that will come to all God’s people at the end of time, when the Lord creates a new heaven and a new earth. The New Jerusalem will be a city where there will be no more tears, because God himself will wipe away our tears and live among us as our God. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross for us, we can be sure that we will see this city someday and live in it forever.
Dear Heavenly Father, help us to trust in your promises of the glorious city of the future, won for us by Jesus. In His Name, Amen.