Genesis 11 tells of the tower of Babel. Mankind had one language and was united in building a city. The city’s main attraction would be a tower reaching to heaven. They planned to use fired bricks held together by mortar. It was to be an impressive, impregnable structure. By building such a tower, the people hoped to make a name for themselves.
While all the earth was busy building up to heaven, scripture says, “the LORD came down to look over the city and the tower that the men were building” (Gen. 11:5). Mankind’s trajectory must have alarmed the Lord because He said, “Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language so that they will not understand one another’s speech” (Gen. 11:7). Once mankind’s language was confused, they dispersed and stopped building the city.
The contrast between God and humanity could not be more clear: Humanity is trying to build its way to heaven while the Lord descends twice. The reality of this two-fold descent is found in Philippians 2:5-8–“Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to hold onto. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death–even to death on a cross.”
The Lord first descended to become a man. “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14). Then He descended further–into the grave (Eph. 4:9). We see again the contrary trajectories of God and man. Man tries to build up and up using the strongest materials he can find. By such feats humanity plans to lift itself above everything and make a name for itself. But the Lord comes down. He descends. He empties Himself, takes the form of a slave, and dies for us. The result? God gives Jesus a name above every name. At that name, every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord. All of man’s efforts come to nothing. Jesus is given the name we sought for ourselves.
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul says the message of the cross is foolishness to the world’s thinking. But “Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:24-25). The entire human order–which we have based on our strength and wisdom–was brought down by the foolishness and weakness of the cross. The cross confused and scattered a world united in its own image rather than God’s.
Isaiah’s prophecy against the king of Babylon captured the spirit of Babylon: “You said to yourself: ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will set up my throne above the stars of God. […] I will ascend above the highest clouds; I will make myself like the Most High'” (Isaiah 14:13-14). Babylon, the city of mankind, is united in raising the “I”–like a high tower–above all else. It is a government of self, by self, for self. With one voice, humanity echos the original temptation of the serpent–to be like God.
But in the kingdom of God, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:19-20). The cross brought an end to the towering “I” of Babylon. God replaces that image with His true image–Christ within.