Jesus Wins! – Part 31: Down Goes Babylon

//Jesus Wins! – Part 31: Down Goes Babylon

Jesus Wins! – Part 31: Down Goes Babylon

Rev. 18

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. [1]

Last week we saw in chapter 17 how the harlot of Babylon is entangled with the political powers of the earth. She seduced them with her wealth, power, and beauty. While heaven celebrates Babylon’s fall, the earth-dwellers will mourn. The angel explained to John in 17:16 how God will begin his final judgment by having government and military powers (the sea beast) turn on worldly culture (Babylon, the city of man) and destroy it – in turn destroying themselves. Whole-hearted pursuit of idols always ends in anger and frustration because humans were created to worship God, not themselves and their own self-generated happiness.

Chapter 18 focuses in upon the heavenly and earthly reactions to the fall of earth-dweller culture and economy. Recall the harlot of Babylon is pictured seated on many waters, a picture of her world-wide influence upon people of every tribe and tongue and nation – Satan’s anti-church. All the earth-dwellers from kings to paupers serve her and her master the devil by looking to anything other than their Creator for safety and pleasure and peace. These visions of Babylon and her destruction are slow-motion close-up replays of the 7th bowl of judgment found at the end of chapter 16.

We have seen how the sixth bowl judgment (the demonic deception and gathering together of the nations at Armageddon to wage war on the church) and the seventh bowl judgment (the destruction of Babylon) both occur at the time of the end, when Jesus Christ returns to judge the world, raise the dead and make all things new. This is a good argument against the view that there will be a literal, physical thousand-year rule of Christ in a literal political nation-state of Israel. That view teaches Jesus Christ returns to earth and then establishes his millennial kingdom before judging the world. But throughout this book, John teaches that judgment day occurs immediately when Christ comes back–not a thousand years later.[2]

Regardless of your interpretational grid, Revelation is intended to be a pastoral letter to suffering people, first to the Roman Asian of John’s day and then to all the saints who await Christ’s return in a world ruled by oppressive and dangerous demonic forces. The pastoral nature of the book becomes clearer as we enter this final section of the letter and see Messiah’s great demolition and rebuilding project taking place. It begins to strike us that God is not passive, but actively engaged in advancing Messiah’s kingdom in several ways.

First, he advances his kingdom as his people who bear the baptismal mark of Christ fight the great holy war by worshipping Jesus regardless of earthly consequences. We put on the whole armor of God and stand upon Scripture, in prayer, in fellowship, and in Word and Sacrament. Second, he advances his kingdom by pouring out limited judgments against the beast and the harlot that serve to call the elect to repentance and faith. Those judgments also serve to harden the hearts of earth-dwellers and prepare the way for the great final judgment. Finally, as we’ve seen in these close-up replays of the seventh bowl judgment, his destruction of the earth-dwellers political-economic power and culture and his judgment of the devil and his minions obliterates evil from his creation begins his great cosmic renovation project. He is preparing a new, eternal, perfect garden-temple for his people.

There is another way in which this section on the beast and the harlot conveys pastoral matters. In Rome, the beast of government demanded that all inhabitants worship the emperor and the pantheon of demon gods, often on pain of death. But the more subtle and alluring danger for believers was the promise of prosperity and cultural acceptance offered by the harlot of earth-dweller culture. She lured believers to go through the motions of emperor worship and demon worship (even if they didn’t believe in such things) to gain access to the money, power, glamour, and celebrity which the harlot dangled in front of them. And so rather than suffer persecution for refusing to worship the beast and his image, the harlot seduces them by offering what looks like an easier and better way.

We know this was happening in some of the churches addressed in chapters 2 and 3. John’s point is to warn the church that Satan will either attack us directly at the point of the sword (the beast), or indirectly, through the wiles of a seductress (the harlot). Therefore, we must always be on our guard. Thus, God’s call to his people enamored with, and trusting into, idolatrous culture to, “Come out of her, my people.[3]

The chapter has four basic sections: (1) the fall of Babylon is predicted (vv. 1–3); (2) God’s people are exhorted to separate from Babylon before her judgment, lest they suffer with her (vv. 4–8); (3) those cooperating with Babylon will lament after her judgment (vv. 9–19); and (4) the faithful will rejoice over her judgment once it is accomplished (vv. 20–24).[4] Chapter 19, at which we will look next time, is a kind of post-game wrap up for the fall of Babylon.

FALL PREDICTED (1-3)

The declaration of Babylon’s judgment is the basis for everything else that happens in chapter 18 – God’s exhortation for the saints to flee, the funeral lamentations of the kings and business class, and the celebration of the saints. The fact that the angel in verse 1 has “great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory[5]” indicate this is another appearance of Messiah Jesus painted with the Old Testament color of “The Angel of the Lord” as we saw in chapter 10. When “glory” describes a heavenly figure in Revelation, it refers to either God or Christ (God in 4:9, 11; 5:13; 7:12; 11:13; 14:7; 15:8; 16:9; 19:1; 21:11, 23; Christ in 1:6; 5:12–13) and by 21:23: “the glory of God illumined it [the new Jerusalem], and the lamp of it is the Lamb.[6]

The desolation of Babylon prepares the way for God to dwell with his people in the new creation and is painted with the colors of Ezekiel 40-48. The Angel of the Lord proclaims, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.” [7] This proclamation was made as the seventh bowl was emptied, clueing us to the fact that chapter 18 is a slow-motion replay of another camera angle of the same event. So inevitable is God’s judgment of the city of man, only the results of it are narrated. And, they are narrated in the past tense as if the destruction has already happened – another color of the Old Testament prophetic language known at the “prophetic perfect” tense.

There are several colors in these words from the Old Testament, especially from Jeremiah 50-51, depicting the fall of literal historic Babylon, as well as Ezekiel 27, which predicts the fall of the wealthy pagan city of Tyre. Israel’s prophets foretold that these two Gentile cities which seduced and oppressed Israel would be destroyed by the hand of God. Their destruction centuries prior to Revelation’s writing, in turn, becomes a picture of what will happen to Babylon the Great, the city of man, at the time of the end. Her end is just because she is inhabited with demons lurking behind, and encouraging, the earth-dwellers worship of idols. Without her jewelry and her makeup, her beauty is no more. Her true ugliness is exposed, and her lovers desert her (all of them lament from afar). She is left destitute, a hollow shell of her former self. But all those entangled with her idolatry will suffer her fate.[8]

CALL TO SEPARATE (4-8)

In verse 4-8, God calls his people to come out of the city of man or be caught up in its destruction. This call is patterned after the repeated exhortations of Isaiah and Jeremiah, especially Jer. 51:45: “Come forth from her midst, my people” (cf. also Isa. 48:20; 52:11; Jer. 50:8; 51:6). These prophets exhorted Israel to separate from Babylon’s idolatry by leaving it and returning to Israel at the appropriate time of restoration.[9] The exhortation in Jeremiah 51 is portrayed with similar metaphors of desolation: “Babylon will become … a haunt of jackals, an object of horror, without inhabitants” (Jer. 51:37).

Is God calling his people to abandon human culture and live in cloistered compounds? Maybe he calling believers to transform and redeem the city of man? No and no. When Israel was exiled into Babylon, God had specific instructions for them that did not include transforming and redeeming a city marked for destruction. Rather, he told them to be good citizens:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.[10]

But God also commanded them to have discernment amid a demonically-led, selfish, idol-worshipping culture:

“Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. [11]

That is the context for God’s command in Rev. 18:4 to come out. God’s people come out of the city of man having a mind with wisdom (17:9) that worships Jesus rather than self. Believers are to remain in the world to witness (11:3–7) and to suffer for their testimony (6:9; 11:7–10; 12:11, 17; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24), but they are not to be of the world (e.g., 14:12–13; 16:15) in the sense that they worship the demonically inspired idols of self-generated happiness.[12]

Even if we found a way to physically leave our culture, we would still be products of it.[13] We would still be fighting our flesh, our Old Adam 1.0 hardware, with its innate desire to serve self over Jesus. No matter where you go, there you are. If you fail to see the demonically-inspired idolatry of the city of man that is so ingrained in your flesh as a child of Adam, you will be sucked into the religion of Babylon the Great. You will, like your 1st-century brothers and sisters in the churches of Sardis and Laodicea, find yourself worshipping idols while merely going through the motions of worshipping Jesus. That is the adultery against which these chapters repeatedly warn.

FUNERAL LAMENTS (9-19)

The rest of chapters 18 and 19 are pictures of what John will later preach when he returns from his exile on Patmos to his beloved congregation in Ephesus in his last great sermon we know as 1s John:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.[14]

First, the kings of the earth (9) lament the harlot’s demise. In John’s day these were the client rulers, the regional and national figurehead rulers who relied on the empire for their prestige and political power. They embraced Roman idolatry and corruption to gain wealth and competed with one another to see who could persecute God’s people in the most openly-oppressive way to demonstrate their loyalty to Caesar and receive more Roman honor and wealth.[15] Now, they “weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment.[16] They lament the loss of her status, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon![17] The greatness and might they have worshipped is stripped from them.

Second, the merchants bewail the fall of Babylon as the great market for their luxurious goods and services. “11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore….”[18] Those who lived to make money, who raced to grab the most toys, see their purpose for living destroyed before their eyes. All they counted as worthy of their time and attention and love has literally gone up in smoke (9). They’re not really mourning over Babylon, but over themselves and the emptiness of their idolatry. Yet they do not repent.

All the wealth of the ancient world poured into the great city of Rome. By land and by sea the art and natural resources and exotic spices, and precious stones and metals, were recklessly consumed by the Roman elite. These items were good in and of themselves, gifts from a good Creator God. But they were the currency of the earth-dweller’s souls, things to be worshiped –the result of which is seen in the last item on this list: “slaves, that is, human souls” [lit: bodies and souls of humans].[19] This list comes from Ezekiel 27 describing the wealth of historic Babylon.

Notice that items listed in 12-13 are of descending value with livestock and slaves at the very end. When humans, created to worship God in Christ Jesus, give themselves over to worship in the demonic realm of the beast and the harlot they turn on one another in hatred and contempt. Other human beings become the least valuable objects in the Satanic religion of self-worship. The bodies, even the souls, of slaves are less valuable than “cattle and sheep, horses and chariots.”[20] Can you see how earth-dwellers oppose the God’s law summed up by Jesus?

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.[21]

Everything you worship that is not Jesus can and will kill you – if not physically, then certainly spiritually. When other human beings, image-bearers of Creator God, become either vehicles or roadblocks to your own pleasure, then you have entered the realm of the devil and his great city of man. People have only two modes: ministry or manipulation. If you’re not ministering to others out of worship for Jesus, then you are manipulating others as a means of worshiping self and idols in the demon-infested city of man.

REJOICING (20-24)

This is why those sealed into Christ rejoice when the city of man is destroyed. “20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her![22] John leaves no doubt that it is God who destroys the earth-dwellers and their power and their culture. He does this by painting a scene from Jeremiah 51:60 where the prophet wrote a book containing all the judgments to come on Babylon. The prophet gave the book to a leader of the exiled community so that when the people reached Babylon, the leader was to tie a stone around the book of judgment and throw it into the Euphrates to symbolize Babylon would sink and rise no more (Jer. 51:61-64).[23] It also has the color of Exodus 15:5 where Moses wrote of Egypt’s army, “The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone.[24]

The angel’s eulogy for Babylon in verses 21-23 uses the words “no more” six times. She will be found no more; sounds of music and industry will be heard no more; her lights will shine no more; and noises of joy and merriment and wedding celebrations will be heard no more. Why, in the face of so much judgment and death and destruction, should God’s people rejoice? The answers are found in verses 23-24. “…for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.[25] Note God calls the idea that humans can be great and have no need of God “sorcery.” Self-worship is witchcraft.

The kings and merchants spoke of her as great and mighty and they worshipped her spenders and wealth. In their worship of anything but God, they slaughtered Jesus’ beloved saints like livestock or valueless slaves. In making God’s good gifts to men into objects of worship, they have given themselves over to the devil and his demons. Anything you worship other than Jesus can and will destroy you. To focus on humanity as the center of everything and to ignore God is the greatest sin.[26]

God’s people rejoice over the judgment of earth-dwellers and their culture because, as we will see in chapter 19, it means the time of the Great Wedding Feast of the Lamb has come. John’s readers never lived to see the destruction of Rome at the hands of Alaric, chieftain of the Visigoths in A.D. 410. It would be another 300 years before Roman power and culture was wiped from the face of the earth. God’s promises are the most certain things in his universe. But God’s timing arises from his own counsel, not ours. The world, the flesh, and the devil are passing away none too soon for those of us who wait to see Jesus face-to-face and then be like him.

In our world of self-interest, self-generated happiness, self-love, and contempt for others – even in the cesspool of sin – Jesus is building his church. You can cling to what is passing away as your hope for fulfillment or you can cling to Jesus who promises:

I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.[27]

When you stand in all your armor of Christ and his benefits, when you worship Jesus, you are storming the very gates of Hell. You can worship the world that is passing away or you can worship the risen and ascended Messiah Jesus who bought you with his precious blood and invites you to his great feast:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. [28]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 18:4–5.

[2] Kim Riddlebarger, Sermons on the Book of Revelation, Sermon 25, Come Out of Her My People (Rev. 18:1-17). http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/downloadable-sermons-on-the-bo/Come%20Our%20of%20Her%20My%20People%20edited%2025.pdf

 

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 18:4.

[4] Beale, 891.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 18:1.

[6] Beale, 892–893.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 18:2.

[8] Riddlebarger, op. cit.

[9] Beale, 897–898.

[10] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Je 29:5–7.

[11] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Je 29:8–9.

[12] Beale, 898.

[13] Phillips, 505.

[14] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Jn 2:15–17.

[15] Phillips, 511.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 18:9–10.

[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 18:10.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 18:11.

[19] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 18:13.

[20] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 18:13.

[21] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mt 22:37–40.

[22] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 18:20.

[23] Phillips, 515.

[24] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Ex 15:5.

[25] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 18:23–24.

[26] Beale, 922.

[27] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Mt 16:18.

[28] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Is 55:1–3.

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