The Death and Rebirth of America’s Cities
It has been a rough year for America’s cities. Their residents have been locked in their apartments for fear of coronavirus. Their attractions, offices, restaurants and stores have been evacuated. Their wealth has bled out because of ailing economic life, lost jobs and dwindling tax revenue.
Worse, their streets have choked with violent mobs vandalizing monuments, smashing storefronts, looting businesses, burning public buildings. Their law enforcement has been bridled by politicians more sympathetic to criminals than to law-keepers. Their protectors are being disrespected, disparaged and defunded, giving their enemies more license, more space to destroy. Their people are suffering rising rates of violent crime, including murder.
Yet these troubling recent events only aggravated a trend that has been wounding the nation’s crowning cities for years, even decades.
Legacy cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Louis and Buffalo have fallen from glittering heights of America’s industrial power. Shifts in the nation’s economy have cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and a loss of wealth. This has been exacerbated by race problems, “white flight,” cutbacks in law enforcement, and escalating crime. These factors have hollowed out many an American metropolis, leaving impoverished slums, empty buildings and decaying infrastructure.
In more recent years, failed welfare policies and lax law enforcement have turned cities into sanctuaries for homelessness, makeshift tent cities, drugs on the streets, garbage and filth, illegal immigration and criminality. Investigative reports have detailed how these problems are afflicting San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and other celebrated cities. Citizens are disgusted with their beloved cities being overtaken by trash, overpopulated by wastrels living off government largess, and overwhelmed by problems caused by bad governance.
All these crises have intensified this year. Animated by the twin specters of pandemic and race revolution, they are overtaking more and more of the nation’s urban landscape.
The effects of these trends will be far-reaching and disturbing, affecting not just city-dwellers, but every American.
Changing City Demography
covid-19 has made population density a bad word. In areas where protests have turned destructive, a cascade of aftereffects are pummeling city-dwellers: jobs lost; stores destroyed and shut down; business costs skyrocketing as insurance premiums soar. And in far too many places, mayors and governors are encouraging these curses. They are shuttering companies in the name of public safety. They are permitting, even applauding, marches and mayhem. And in the vacuum left by their failed leadership, revolutionaries are growing more bold, brazen, aggressive and ambitious.
“Urban dwellers are resilient, but these simultaneous events have forced people to face a hard reality,” wrote Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal. “In just three months it has become clear that modern urban progressivism is politically incompetent and intellectually incoherent. … The message being sent is that progressive governance is, at best, ambivalent about maintaining civil order. The net result the past three months has been a sense in many cities of irresolvable chaos, stress and threat.”
At the same time that city life is becoming more unpleasant, virus restrictions are forcing much of life online. Schools nationwide are shifting to distance learning, and businesses are asking people to work from home. Social distancing restrictions and reduced foot traffic mean that costly big-city office space or storefront makes less and less economic sense. Consumers were already buying more and more online; this accelerates the trend. And many analysts are convinced some decentralization in the workforce is likely permanent.
The cost-benefit analysis is convincing many city folk to make a move. If you’re working remotely anyway, why pay big-city rent? And social distancing is far easier in suburbia, or in the country.
In San Francisco and Manhattan, when covid hit, many people left. Vacancies rose; home prices and rental rates dropped. Home sales in the suburbs around New York City soared, with many well-off city residents buying properties sight unseen based off Internet ads. The New York Times reported a 44 percent increase in home sales in nearby suburban counties in July compared to the previous year; 73 percent in a county just over the state line into Connecticut; 112 percent in Westchester, just north of the city. Meanwhile, the number of properties sold in Manhattan plunged 56 percent.
Nationwide, home mortgage applications are up 33 percent compared to last year, and are still rising. FoxBusiness.com credits this to more Americans working remotely, and more families doing school from home and thus needing more space.
The people escaping the cities are people of means. Thus the concentration of impoverished people with no other options is growing. This at the same time that jobs are drying up, businesses are vacating, properties are being destroyed, law enforcement is pulling back, and crime is rising.
This is casting a pall over the future of America’s cities. And illuminating some of the most chilling end-time prophecies of the Bible.
The Bible foretells scenarios about America’s cities so nightmarish, some are difficult to conceive. But these recent destructive trends definitely make these prophecies far easier to imagine.
The Prophesied Fate of Cities
Many of the prophecies in the book of Isaiah are for our day, this period concluding man’s rule on Earth. Of the modern nations descended from ancient Israel—most prominently America—Isaiah foretells this: “[Y]e will revolt more and more …. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores …. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers” (Isaiah 1:5-7).
America has witnessed the ghastly fulfillment of this prophecy, scenes of cities burning terribly at the hand of lawless people who seek to dismantle the American system. Crowds of protesters have chanted “Death to America”—echoing Islamists on the streets of Iran!
But this is only the outer edges of the destruction to come. Several prophecies describe a coming time of “great tribulation” worse than any in history (Matthew 24:21). This is God’s terrible punishment for modern-day Israel’s rebellion.
Like Isaiah 1:7, these prophecies describing the coming tribulation place unusual emphasis on what happens in the cities. They show that cities will be hit first—and in some ways hit hardest. And a great many of the problems will be curses we bring on ourselves. This lamentable reality is foreshadowed in the way we are behaving and treating each other in our cities even today.
These major population centers have hordes of people concentrated in a small space—thus magnifying the problems associated with human nature. God says, “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place …” (Isaiah 5:8). This is a major reason that particularly the earlier phases of the Tribulation will smash the cities hardest.
The convergence of destructive factors hitting our cities has created a climate of irreconcilable contempt. Leftists have foolishly insisted that destroying buildings and property is “not violence”—that it is actually necessary to highlight racial inequities. But the blaze of hatred overtaking America’s cities has already started escalating into bloodshed—people assaulting and even murdering one another.
Changing demographics, deteriorating economic conditions, irrepressible racial hatred, escalating lawlessness—all these ingredients are already in place. Prophecy describes still more factors certain to aggravate the violence, most prominently grievous financial disruption.
How bad will the bloodshed get? You find the chilling answer in Ezekiel 5. Here God gave His prophet a parable of these nations’ destruction showing that a mind-numbing one third of the people would “burn with fire … in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled …” (verse 2).
This is a prophecy of devastating disorder in cities being inflamed by economic besiegement. Foreign nations are prophesied to freeze America out of world trade. “As that happens, domestic rioting and violence will become much more prevalent,” Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes in Ezekiel—the End-Time Prophet. “Already in America today, instances of rioting and burning are occurring more regularly, often associated with racial hatred. … As the economy grows worse, besieged by foreign powers, the rioters will burn more and more—because God’s wrath is upon us! … These problems will intensify until our people repent!”
It is not at all difficult to see how economic problems will add gasoline to these fires—yet the conflagration will grow far worse than we expect! Leftists in America act like they can encourage and use racial violence for their own political gain, but these prophecies show that nobody will benefit from what is about to happen—except America’s worst enemies!
Verse 12 warns, “A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee ….” The Hebrew word translated pestilence means destruction or death. “So this pestilence could be a plague of violence or burning,” Mr. Flurry writes. “It can be defined as a plague of violence or rioting—such as the Baltimore riots in 2015 or the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks! … The pestilence, or plague of violence, will cause many health problems that lead to famine. Sewage disposal will be disrupted. Gas lines will be broken. Jobs will be lost. Society will unravel and the collective panic will bring a stock market disaster! It will get so bad that violence and famine will take millions of lives!”
A companion prophecy appears in Ezekiel 7:15: “The sword is without, and the pestilence and the famine within: he that is in the field shall die with the sword; and he that is in the city, famine and pestilence shall devour him.” Different fates await people in different locales. As other prophecies confirm, those in the field, or country, will be taken in a foreign attack. Pestilential violence, rioting and destruction will devour the city-dwellers.
Already you see the violence hitting cities hardest. It is the heavily populated urban areas that have the greatest concentration of radicals who are bent on destruction. These verses show that current hatreds are destined to erupt into full-scale civil war on a staggering scale!
“The seeds of this future calamity have already been sown,” Mr. Flurry writes. “The government has lost control. There is a breakdown of law and order. … We are getting dangerously close to social anarchy and chaos!” He first wrote about these scriptures in 2002. These prophetically based words have become more and more relevant in the years since.
“Some of these criminal leaders know how to play public discontent like a fiddle. The news media help them spread their destructive messages,” Mr. Flurry continues. “There is only one solution to this nightmare! Our people, black and white, must repent and turn to God. If we fail to do that, the suffering is just beginning!”
Jesus Christ famously said, “A house divided against itself shall not stand.” Looking at the savage division among Americans, it is plain just how much such infighting weakens the nation and makes it vulnerable to attack from without. This is exactly what will happen.
Several prophecies show that once war within America cripples the populace, particularly in the more densely inhabited areas, foreigners will attack.
Closely read this terrifying prophecy from Amos: “Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel. The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise: she is forsaken upon her land; there is none to raise her up. For thus saith the Lord God; The city that went out by a thousand shall leave an hundred, and that [the same city of 1,000] which went forth by an hundred shall leave ten, to the house of Israel” (Amos 5:1-3).
What could possibly kill 90 percent of the people in a city so quickly—and soon after, another 90 percent of the survivors?
This is one of several prophecies warning that weapons of mass destruction are going to be used against America’s cities! The nation’s enemies are going to target America’s cities, certainly with nuclear bombs, perhaps with chemical and biological weapons as well. Amos is prophesying of 99 percent of our cities’ populations being extinguished!
This is one of several passages foretelling the use of modern mass-killing weapons, and how they will decimate the people of the cities, making them “without inhabitant.” “I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant” (Zephaniah 3:6; see also Jeremiah 2:15; 4:7; 33:10). In all human history, such sweeping slaughter has only been possible in the modern age. And the weapons man has devised for this purpose are certain to be used.
In Isaiah 6, God speaks of the spiritual blindness afflicting our peoples. The prophet asks, How long will you allow this to go on? “And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate” (verse 11). God is going to allow us to experience the full horrifying consequences of our own wrongdoing and wickedness!
It is crucial to study these prophecies—and believe them. Look at our cities today, and you see the early stages of their fulfillment!
Don’t be under the illusion that these problems will simply blow over, and all will return as it was before. Take what is happening now as advance warning of far worse to come, and turn to God in repentance! That is all that God is after—and He honors the nation, the city or the individual who will depart from wickedness and turn his heart to Him.
Thankfully, individuals who do so today will be protected from the worst that is about to befall this world. Yet there is still hope for the world that remains in rebellion against God. The coming punishment, fierce as it will be, ultimately will bring a willful mankind to its knees.
Jesus Christ is going to return in power, and He will rule those who survive the coming holocaust.
When He does so, in the new world He creates He will oversee a vast reconstruction program worldwide. The same Bible that warns of our cities’ devastation also includes many spectacular prophecies about what will become of our cities beyond the near term. They depict a time coming soon when these cities will be rebuilt, and once again teem with vitality, prosperity and life!
A Peek at Tomorrow’s Cities
Imagine quality city life being affordable. Imagine a city providing enough stable, decent jobs that unemployment is next to nil, and everyone enjoys affluence. “… Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity …” (Zechariah 1:17; Revised Standard Version). Imagine a city devoid of run-down, impoverished slums and ghettos.
Imagine cities being crime-free. Imagine being able to walk the streets, even back alleys, at any time of day or night without fear. “[T]hey shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid” (Ezekiel 34:28). Imagine thievery, muggings, race riots and gang warfare no longer being a concern. “Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders …” (Isaiah 60:18).
Imagine a healthy city environment. Imagine lovely, productive gardens right in the midst of the city. “[T]hey shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them” (Amos 9:14). Imagine eating at a restaurant where fresh produce grows on site. Imagine land being allocated efficiently enough that areas exist for local animal husbandry. “[I]n all the cities thereof, shall be an habitation of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down” (Jeremiah 33:12). Imagine the pastoral serenity enjoyed only by country folk today being common in the city as well.
Widespread prosperity, secure streets, nutritious food, outdoor activity in clean air—these benefits will dramatically increase the health of the residents of tomorrow’s cities!
But how will such a revolution be possible?
Biblical prophecy is clear that our present civilization is about to be replaced by a far better world. Though today’s cities will be destroyed (e.g. Ezekiel 6:6; 12:20), the positive upshot is that the builders of tomorrow’s cities won’t have to compromise in order to work around what already exists; they will be able to start from the ground up. “For thou shalt … make the desolate cities to be inhabited. … And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations“ (Isaiah 54:3; 61:4).
Prophecy also shows that God will change the hard hearts of men and women, eliminating hostility, competitiveness, aggression and selfishness, and replacing it with His own nature—a basic desire to follow His law of love. Thus, in the cities of the future, people will resist the tendency to degenerate. Instead, they will care for their families and their surroundings, take pride in their homes and their work, and treat others with respect and courtesy.
And who will preside over these cities? It would be a significant revolution just to have leaders who truly serve people and refrain from corruption, bribery, cheating and imposing burdensome taxes. But God promises to do even better: Tomorrow’s cities will be ruled by spirit beings—the glorified saints of God made perfect! Read in Luke 19:12-19 and Revelation 2:26-27 Christ’s promise to appoint individuals who have already proven themselves by overcoming their human nature, and have been transformed into an immortal spiritual state. These beings will have the authority and power to enforce God’s law in order to prevent problems and to ensure that business in the city is conducted in an ethical, fair, organized manner that benefits everyone.
If you have never proved this truth from Scripture, you owe it to yourself to order a free copy of Herbert W. Armstrong’s booklet The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like. It describes in vivid detail, supported by ample biblical proof, how a great many of the administrative positions in God’s coming Kingdom will likely be filled by the men and women of the Bible, resurrected to spirit life.
Once this fundamental issue is resolved, and society is composed of godly leaders ruling over a human populace unified in their desire to build harmonious, attractive communities, the real work of creating utopian cities will proceed.
The cities of the future will likely be somewhat small, more like today’s towns than megacities like Tokyo, New York or Shanghai. They will support balanced, moderate living and personal growth. Massive skyscrapers will be unnecessary because property will be plentiful. Scripture describes a vigorous land-renewal program: mountains being lowered, deserts being reclaimed, underwater land being raised. Leviticus 25 details a homesteading system whereby every family will own land. Micah 4:4 says,
“[T]hey shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid ….” Equitable property distribution will create widespread security and fulfillment for all families.
However, don’t expect tomorrow’s cities to follow the pattern of today’s suburbs, which come with several problems: homogenous neighborhoods, automobile dependency, commuting and traffic nightmares, social fragmentation, and poor health for lack of exercise, to name a few. Biblical accounts show that future cities will include vibrant, heavily used community spaces. The Bible describes tomorrow’s cities as being very social—“filled with flocks of men” (read Ezekiel 36:34-38). Today, cities are packed with anonymous strangers who rub shoulders but don’t interact, who then commute home to their private suburban bunkers where they remain isolated from neighbors. Tomorrow, cities will be designed to nurture a sense of community and belonging.
“Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof” (Zechariah 8:4-5). All cities will likely pattern certain elements after Jerusalem. Clearly, some quarters will be closed to traffic, opening the door for these extraordinary intergenerational experiences. This is a picture of attractive boulevards, with storefronts on the sidewalk, rather than being pushed away from the street and out of walking distance behind enormous parking lots. It suggests the existence of smart, efficient public transportation that people of all ages can easily use to get to the city center.
Isaiah described this social atmosphere perfectly when he wrote, “[J]oy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (Isaiah 51:3). Jeremiah got even more eloquent: “Thus saith the Lord; Again there shall be heard in this place … even in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem … The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness …” (Jeremiah 33:10-11). These prophecies are promises from the same God who richly designed and created this exquisite planet and universe. They are certain to come to pass!
It can be difficult for our minds to conceive of a world where transportation doesn’t pollute; where families can easily access the city and yet live in their own homes on their own land; where industry operates smartly and cleanly without dominating or besmirching the landscape; where urban life is just as healthy and safe as country life. But we can rest assured that this world will soon be here. God has spoken it, and He is not one to go back on His word (Isaiah 55:11).
The question is, will you be there to enjoy it? Turn to God now, and you can do even better: You can be there to help govern it!