“On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob”
What does that mean? Why does the Lord love the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of his people? Because, according to God’s Word, God put his name in Zion (the city of God, Jerusalem); it’s his own dwelling place! God, of course, is omnipresent. But it’s in Zion, in his temple, that he specially reveals his presence to human beings. In Zion, God is present in a special way that’s true nowhere else. Zion is where sinful human beings can draw near to meet with God and receive his blessing. Why? Because the temple is in Zion and that’s where sacrifice is offered. It’s where God’s white-hot wrath against sin is turned away because an acceptable substitute suffers and dies in the place of the one for whom it is offered.
And yet, according to God’s Word, you can’t find Zion on a map. You can find where it was. But you can’t find where it is. Before Jesus came, Zion was the physical city of Jerusalem. It had streets, houses, and walls. Above all, it had the temple with the altar on which God’s appointed sacrifices were offered. You could find it. But it was only a shadow! Jerusalem was always a means to an end, never an end in itself. It always pointed forward to a true, more substantial reality that was yet to come.
But now, in Christ Jesus, that true, substantial reality has come (Jn. 4:19–26). Jesus sums up in himself everything that Zion’s temple foreshadowed. Jesus himself is “greater than the temple” (Mt. 12:6). Jesus himself is now the place where human beings can draw near to God (Jn. 14:6). Why? Because the cross of Christ is where God once and for all poured out his wrath on his only begotten Son, who suffered and died in the place of his people (Jn. 3:16–17; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 10:1–25).
So where can you find Zion now? You can find Zion where Jesus is, in heaven. Zion is at God’s right hand where Jesus ascended after he was raised from the dead. Everyone who receives and rests in Jesus Christ alone, who finds refuge in him as his or her Saviour, is a citizen of that heavenly city. God’s Word says that the Jerusalem above is the mother of believers (Gal. 4:26). Heb. 12:22–24 assures believers that they “have come to Mount Zion and to 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, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
This heavenly Zion is more and less made manifest in the visible church (in the people, not the building), in those who gather in Christ’s name. There, Jesus personally gathers, builds up, and rules his people by his Spirit through his Word.
One day—when Jesus returns in power and glory—this heavenly Zion will come down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. On the new heaven and new earth, the dwelling place of God will be with the redeemed humanity. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away (Col. 1:4; Rev. 21:1–4).
In the meantime, God’s people are to seek the things that are above, where Christ is, rather than the things that are on earth, laying up treasures in heaven because their lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:1–3).
Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!
He, whose Word cannot be broken,
formed thee for his own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
thou may’st smile at all thy foes.
See! the streams of living waters,
springing from eternal love;
well supply thy sons and daughters
and all fear of want remove.
Who can faint while such a river
ever flows their thirst t’assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the Giver,
never fails from age to age.
Round each habitation hovering,
see the cloud and fire appear!
For a glory and a cov’ring
showing that the Lord is near.
Thus deriving from our banner
light by night and shade by day;
safe they feed upon the manna
which he gives them when they pray.
Blest inhabitants of Zion,
washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
makes them kings and priests to God.
’Tis his love his people raises
over self to reign as kings;
and as priests, his solemn praises
each for a thank offering brings.
Saviour, if of Zion’s city,
I through grace a member am,
let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy Name.
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
all his boasted pomp and show;
solid joys and lasting treasure
none but Zion’s children know.
(John Newton, 1779)
 “Under the law [the old testament], it [the covenant of grace] was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament” (Confession of Faith 7:5).
 “Under the gospel [the new testament], when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations” (Confession of Faith 7:6).
 “This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them” (Confession of Faith 25:4).
 “Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto” (Confession of Faith 25:3).