A Tale of Two Cities
This is the tale of two cities that were at the epicenter of two of God’s commands that affected the entire earth. In this study the goals are to understand the response of the people in these two cities to each global command, God’s reaction to ensure the fulfillment of the commandment and the implications for us.
The first command was given in Gen 1:28; And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” This command was given to man and animals at the time of creation and was repeated after the flood in Genesis 9:1. The repetition of the command suggests the importance that God placed on its fulfillment. This importance is also illustrated in God’s response to the actions of the people, the descendants of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth, after the flood.
These people said in Gen 11:4 “… Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” The peoples’ response to the commandment was one of rebellion. They decided to build a tower high enough to be a beacon such that they could all stay in one place and not be scattered, in direct opposition to God’s command. This is man’s “bite of the forbidden fruit” so-to-speak after the flood. God states in Gen 11:6; And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them”. God’s response is dramatic and decisive. He confuses the language so that they could not work together to build the city they were planning.
In Gen 11:8 it says; So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Because the language was confused, the city was called Babel, meaning “confusion”. It is interesting that God’s command was fulfilled by a method that was unexpected – confusion. This guaranteed that they would be scattered into groups of people who spoke the same language. They were not actually punished but their rebellious plans were definitely thwarted and God’s command was fulfilled. The fulfillment of this command is obvious to us today since there is almost no place on earth that is not continuously inhabited by man.
Fast forward to New Testament times and consider a second global command Jesus gave His disciples. In Mark 16:15,16 Jesus gives what many now call the great commission; “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”. This statement was made in Jerusalem after his resurrection and just prior to his ascension back into heaven.
We see the beginning of the fulfillment of this command in Acts 2 in verses 38 and 39 in the first proclamation of the gospel; And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” In verse 38 Peter basically repeats the command of Jesus to his disciples and in verse 39 he indicates that the message being proclaimed is not geographically limited to Jerusalem, but also applies to others who may be far away in time or space. Jews had come from far and near to celebrate the Passover as noted in Acts 2:5,6; Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
Here at the beginning of the preaching of the gospel in Jerusalem God provided that the message could be preached in the language of those who were listening to Peter’s sermon. In the profusion of languages spoken by those present on the Day of Pentecost, God brought about the reversal of the confusion of languages at Babel by providing that the gospel could be preached in each person’s language who was present at Peter’s sermon. This accelerated the spread of the gospel by permitting it to be taught in every language under heaven. The confusion of tongues at Babel that resulted in scattering the people all over the earth, God now used to ensure that the gospel could be preached in all the world in every nation in their own language.
Initially the gospel was preached in Jerusalem with great success but had not spread from Jerusalem throughout the earth as Jesus had commanded. The people who were building Babel were scattered throughout the earth when their languages were confused. In the New Testament times, the believers were scattered by a confusion of a different kind, that of persecution. Therefore, … those who were scattered went about preaching the word (Acts 8:4).
Paul noted in Colossians 1:23 that the gospel had been preached to every creature under heaven; “… the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” Does this mean that Jesus’ command has been fulfilled and we no longer need to be concerned with it? In Genesis the scattering was of a physical nature meant to fill the earth, a fixed space, and the command was fulfilled when the earth was populated. Whereas the earth is a fixed space to be filled, “every creature under heaven” is a dynamic, ever-changing entity requiring that each generation carry the gospel to “every creature under heaven” in order to fulfill Jesus’ command in their time.
In 2 Tim 2:2 Paul writes; “ and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also”. This gives the pattern for spreading the gospel throughout time, teaching faithful men to teach others. So, let’s get to work, responding to Jesus’ command.