Fallen is Babylon
Passage: Revelation 14:8–14:8
Fallen is Babylon
August 31st, 2008
Way of Grace Church
I. Creating Suspense
When it comes to creating suspense, a good writing teacher will tell you that the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist, between good and evil must be believable.
And one way in which it must be believable is that the reader must believe that evil has the potential to win. As much as everyone loves to see the good guy victorious, to see good triumph in the end, there cannot be real suspense in a story if the defeat of the hero is not really possible.
For example, the only real suspense in a Superman story comes from the fact that there is such a thing as Kryptonite, right?
It is only when we hold our breath that we experience the thrill of a good suspense story.
But if this literary principle is true, then the verse I'd like to look at this morning, Revelation 14:8, would be an example of precisely what NOT to do.
II. The Passage: "Babylon the Great" (14:8)
Just recently, when I talked with some of our youth in the youth ministry about what we might study in the coming months, one of them suggested going through the book of Revelation. Well, as any good pastor would do, I...quickly changed the subject.
But I thought it would good this morning to look at one of the key themes in Revelation, so that as you or we study this book in the future, we'll be better equipped to understand and apply its message.
But let's go back to this idea of creating suspense. Let's look together at Revelation 14, verse 8. Let me read:
And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality."
Now, as is the case with most of Revelation, the meaning and significance of this verse is not immediately clear to the modern reader.
While the proclamation of the angel is clearly that Babylon has fallen, or will fall, it isn't clear what or where or who Babylon is? Before we can understand the importance of this verse, the importance of the angel's proclamation, we need to identify Babylon.
The first thing we need to do in an attempt to understand this verse, as we would do with any verse, is ask the question, "Who is the audience of Revelation, and how they would understand the term Babylon?"
Listen to what we learn at the beginning of this book, in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 1. The Apostle John writes: On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
As is clear from the first three chapter of the book, these were very real churches in very real cities composed of very real people.
I say this because sometimes much of Revelation is typically understood as having very little significance for its original audience, since supposedly, it is really intended for some future set of readers. But Revelation itself states this vision, all of it, was intended for these seven churches of western Asia Minor, the western part of what is today the country of Turkey.
Now with this in mind, that is, remembering that we want to understand how the first recipients of Revelation would have understood its content, we come back to the question of Babylon.
What can be confusing about trying to identify Babylon is that when we consider this name in a simple, literal way, we find ourselves at a dead end. Why? Because Babylon, the great city in Mesopotamia, over which Nebuchadnezzar himself ruled, and to which Daniel and his friends were exiled in the 7th century before Christ, this Babylon was no more, and had been nothing for hundreds and hundreds of years when Revelation was written.
According to God's word through Jeremiah, Babylon would never be inhabited again:
Babylon will be a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals, an object of horror and scorn, a place where no one lives. (51:37)
So what were the original readers of Revelation to have understood by this term Babylon?
Well if we had the time this morning to read through Revelation chapters 17 and 18, we would find many clues about this Babylon.
As the angel in John's vision tells him in verse 18 of chapter 17: "The woman [this Babylon the Great] you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth."
It is a city not just of power, but of persecution: "I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus." (17:6)
Chapter 18 describes the city as one busy with trade and possessing great wealth. But it is in 17:9 that we find our best clue in identifying Babylon: "This calls for a mind with wisdom. [that is, listen and consider this clue] The seven heads [of the beast the woman rode in John's vision...the seven heads...] are seven hills on which the woman sits."
There was in the ancient world only one city that was built on seven hills and identified as such by ancient writers and poets. There was in the ancient world only one city that ruled over the kings of the earth. There was only city that stood above all others in terms of its trade and wealth. In the original context of this letter, for Revelation's original readers, this could only refer to one place: Rome.
Now the fact that Babylon the great is Rome is not really surprising, since even the Apostle Peter in I Peter 5:13 refers to Rome as Babylon. This may have been a common device used by early Christians.
But why not just say Rome? Why all the symbolism? Well several reasons. Sometimes is was for the sake of safety that a writer did not use the name Rome, since such language could betray away one's location or be used as evidence of treason.
Second, like the rest of the book, the language used here is meant to communicate something deeper about Rome.
Like ancient Babylon, Rome represented a world power that stood in opposition to God and His people. Like ancient Babylon, Rome was persecuting and had persecuted the holy ones of God. And at the time Revelation was probably transcribed, like ancient Babylon, Rome, was destroying or had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple of God.
One way the Bible confirms this connection is that much of what we find in chapter 18 is taken from or alludes to passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah when they spoke about literal Babylon hundreds and hundreds of years earlier.
When we understand that Babylon is referring to Rome, then we understand the true power of the angel's proclamation: "Fallen, fallen is" Rome the great city, the city that was referred to by ancient writers as "the eternal city".
And undoubtedly, even the Christians who lived under Rome's power, those who were persecuted by Emperors like Nero and Domitian, these disciples probably believed this as well, that Rome would endure. It seemed like it always had, and it seemed like it always would. But God promised otherwise.
This great harlot who persecuted the people of God and spread her wickedness across the earth would be judged. She would fall. God would see to it.
So in the original context, the cry that Babylon is fallen is a prophecy of hope for God's persecuted church; a prophetic announcement that God will right all wrongs. That God has not forgotten His people.
III. Babylon in Modern Times
But what about for us? What is the significance of these verses for us today in modern times? If you think about it, we sit in a similar place in comparison to Revelation's original readers. Just as they lived on the other side of ancient Babylon's fall, we today live on the other side of Rome's destruction that took place in the 5th century AD. As He always is, God was true to His word.
Well it may be enough to say that for us, the fall of Rome, the fall of Babylon the great represents a confirmation of the sovereignty of God and of His faithfulness to His word. Not even the mighty Rome could stand against our God.
But if we think about the book of Revelation just a bit more, I think we can learn something else about modern faith and the fall of Babylon. As is well known, Revelation is a book that describes, not simply the end of Rome, but even more so, the end of the world and the final outworking of God's victory.
I believe that God through the writer of Revelation, uses the designation "Babylon", because as we've said, there is a comparison to made between the two empires. Rome is not Babylon, but the spirit of Babylon dwells in her midst, that spirit of sedition and sorcery, that spirit of poisonous idolatry, that spirit that persecutes God's people.
Now, in regards to the first readers of Revelation, we have to ask, "How could they have imagined God's ultimate overthrow of the present order of things, of the world's godless system? In what way could that be communicated?" Well, we've already seen the answer. Through the picture of Rome's overthrow.
Does the spirit of the harlot, of Babylon the great, still exist in our day? Of course it does. Though Babylon took the form of Rome in the ancient context of Revelation, I believe this apocalyptic vision is ultimately meant to point to the ultimate victory of God over the empire of this present world. Though this empire is composed of many nations and peoples, they are united by their waywardness, wickedness, and fallen wisdom.
The British writer Malcolm Muggeridge once stated "What will finally destroy us is not communism nor fascism (and we could probably add terrorism), but man acting like God."
This is the principle of the present system of things. This system is what the apostle John, in his gospel and his letters calls the "world".
For us today, the angel's cry in Revelation 14:8 is a proclamation of hope and relief. It is a proclamation of victory.
For the first readers, Rome represented the present, pervasive, and perverse system that dominated the minds of the known world's inhabitants and oppressed the people of God.
But for every reader, no matter their date of birth, Revelation is meant to be a reminder that the battle's outcome is certain. According to the sovereign God of creation, the forces of evil do not have a chance. The present, pervasive, and perverse system of the world that we experience today will fall. There is an absolute certainty to God's ultimate victory!
Now in terms of the literary lesson we began with tonight, that a reader should be led to believe that the bad guy has a chance to win, that we shouldn't reveal the end of the story and jeopardize the suspense, like we said, Revelation 14:8 seems to ignore this lesson; it does give away the ending: "Fallen is Babylon the great!"
Does this mean that Revelation is not good literature? Of course not, because God's goal is to create in us as followers of Jesus Christ, not suspense, but perseverance through hope.
IV. Life In Light of God's Ultimate Victory
So how do we live in light of the absolute certainty of God's victory over this present world system? Does it matter to you? Does it matter to know that God will be victorious? It should!
For anyone who has ever been deceived by, tempted by, stomped on, burdened with, disappointed by, trapped in, spat on, disgusted by, or pushed to the brink of despair because of this world, this world system, the news of God's ultimate victory should be news that inspires incredible hope.
In fact, in Revelation, God gives us at least two commands in the midst of this description of and judgment against Babylon, two commands that help us better understand what it means to live in light of the absolute certainty of God's ultimate victory.
A. Come Out of Her (18:4)
The first command is found in Revelation 18:4: 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..."
This vision was calling the early Christians to be set apart from the corruption of Rome, from the worship of the Emperor, from the compromise of the culture. In the same way, everyday, you and I are tempted to do the very thing Paul warned us about in Romans 12, "do not be conformed to this world".
Like those in the ancient world, we are tempted to believe that all that the world has to offer, the pleasure, the riches, the fame, the security, that all of it will last; that it will satisfy. But it will not.
It cannot because it will not last. Listen to the way John himself put it in another of his letters:
Do not love the world, nor 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 and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever... (I John 2:15-17)
Have you come out of Babylon, or are you trying to live with one foot in the city?
Remember, Babylon is destined to fall. Be careful you're not caught in that judgment. Come out of her. As followers of Jesus Christ, be set apart.
B. Rejoice Over Her (18:20)
But there's a second command we find in chapter 18: Look at verse 20:
"Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!"
Now this command seems a bit strange doesn't it? Rejoice over the destruction of the world? Shouldn't we be weeping for all the lives lost, for those perishing?
Yes we should, but remember, the call to rejoice here is based, not on the destruction of lives, but on the destruction of this whole rebellious, corrupt, perverse, cruel, unjust system we call the world.
Won't you rejoice when child abuse is no more? Won't you rejoice when adultery is no more? Won't you rejoice when greed and corruption and the suffering they cause are no more? Won't you rejoice when indifference, and neglect, and vanity, and betrayal, and sexual immorality, and oppression are no more? If we love God, how could we not?
If you truly love those in the world, then you will hate the kinds of things that so often characterize the world. You will flee from the grip of such things on your own life. You will rejoice over the fact that God will bring all of it to an end.
And ultimately, what we see in 18:20 is that God's judgment comes against the world because the world is diametrically opposed to God and God's people. How can we love the world when it hates our God?
Babylon will fall. Every manifestation of Babylon has fallen just as God has declared. It will be no different in the final judgment.
C. The Victory of the Lamb
So just as God called the original reader's of Revelation to come out the corruption of Rome and rejoice over her coming judgment, so too are we called to be set apart from the world system and rejoice over the fact that its already been judged.
But remember the world system is not simply something out there. The bricks that build this world system are the hearts of human beings. Our hearts.
So how will any of us escape, how will any of us rejoice and not mourn, if Babylon is ultimately inside us?
Revelation confirms that there is only way we can do any of this. There is only way that we can be separate from Babylon. There is only way we can escape the judgments God has in store.
Our only hope is the Lamb.
Earlier in this vision, John heard this about the Lamb:
"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." (Revelation 5:9, 10)
It because of the blood of this Lamb that men and women, boys and girls from every part of this world can be set apart from Babylon. And the blood of this Lamb is of course just another way to talk about the cross of Jesus Christ.
In chapter 19, just after the fall of Babylon, we read about the rider on the white horse who comes to defeat those forces of cruelty and deception that have persecuted God's people. The rider is described in this way:
He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. (19:13)
Listen to how the Apostle Paul expressed his relationship with the world in light of the ultimate victory of God, that victory that will be fully carried out in the end, but a victory that was accomplished through the death of Jesus Christ.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)
Brothers and sisters, friends, the only way that we can truly come out of the world, the only way that we can truly rejoice over her coming downfall, the only way we can livie in the genuine hope inspired by the absolute certainty of God's ultimate victory is through faith in what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
Through Jesus' death we can die to the world, and the world can die to us. We can be freed from Babylon.
I pray that this week, all of us will walk in that freedom that comes through faith, and that when we do, we will see Babylon for what she is.