Fallen and Falling (Revelation 18:1-19:5)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 18:1–19:5
Fallen and Falling
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
August 23, 2015
I. God's Rogues Gallery
As a longtime lover of comic books and superheroes, I know what someone's referring to when they talk about, for example, Batman's 'rogues gallery'. A rogues gallery is that collection of villains with whom the hero regularly battles. For Batman, that would be famous characters like the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler.
Though we don't always think about it in these terms, as we've seen from the Book of Revelation, God also has a rogues gallery - entities who are always plotting, always attacking, always intent on thwarting His purposes in the world.
The leader of God's rogues gallery is none other than the devil himself, the dragon from Revelation chapter 12. You may remember when we studied that chapter that the Bible describes Satan as the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31), and the “god of this world” (II Corinthians 4:4). But you also may remember how chapter 13 described the devil giving his global authority to a “beast” from the sea. Using imagery from the book of Daniel (chapter 7), this beast clearly represented a politically powerful entity who had authority over many nations, an entity bearing the sword, an entity who oppressed and would oppress the Church.
But this “beast” was not alone. Revelation 13 also introduced another beast, a second entity. And just as the devil used the first beast to accomplish his global influence, that first beast used the second beast to exalt himself, through both civic and commercial pressure; through religious deception and financial ultimatums. As we saw in chapter 16, this second beast is also called (not surprisingly) the “false prophet.”
But last week, we began to understand how a fourth character is central in this rogues gallery. In addition to the political power and military might of the beast, in addition to the propaganda machine and financial fist of the false prophet, there is a prostitute who works, not to coerce, but to seduce. She is called “Babylon the great” and her goal is always moral and spiritual compromise.
Now what is extremely difficult about this rogues gallery is knowing how to understand these symbolic characters. Chapter 12 clearly explains that the dragon is the devil, a figure we know from the rest of the Bible; an actual personal (albeit spiritual) being. But the other three are never identified in this way. Instead, even though they are symbolically personified, they are painted in much broader brushstrokes; that is, there are clues indicating that these three characters represent much larger institutions (even though individuals often embody them).
For the original readers of Revelation, those seven churches of the western Roman province of Asia Minor, the identification of the “beast”, the “false prophet”, and “Babylon” as various aspects of the Roman Empire would be obvious. And that identification seems deliberate.
But even as we will see this morning, there are a number of clues in the book that point us to the fact that these members of God's rogues gallery are not simply means through which Satan worked in the First Century. They are the means through which Satan works throughout the centuries. A politically dominant nation or empire, supported by various propagandistic institutions and influencing peoples and leaders through the promise of pleasure, possessions, position, and power. What century, what corner of the globe, has not felt the devil's grip in exactly these ways? This is, and always has been, the world system.
II. The Passage: “Come Out of Her, My People ” (18:1-19:5)
This morning, God has laid before the meaty center of the very thing He introduced last time in 17:1. That's where John was invited by an angel with these words: “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters...” Chapter 17 spoke only briefly of her judgment. But here in chapter 18, her judgment is center stage.
Now, as you could tell from reading through the section that runs from 18:1 to 19:5, this is a very large and dense section of Scripture. It is a section built squarely on the Old Testament and what are called prophetic 'taunt songs'. The most important of these OT pillars is God's announcement of Babylon's judgment through the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 50 and 51. Just go home and read through those two chapters and you will see an amazing amount of parallels between literal Babylon's judgment and spiritual Babylon's judgment.
But again, most of us read through something like this and say, “Huh?” and “Why does this matter? Why should it matter to me?”
I think the key to understanding why God gave us this chapter is to first acknowledge the fact that God gave it to us for us. As we've talked about over the past couple of weeks, this chapter was not primarily written as a warning to the Roman Empire or to those who have gleefully received “the mark of the beast” (13:16, 17). This was written for those who have confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord.
So to understand how the large section fits together and why it matters, we must begin by spotlighting, underlining, by emphasizing the one verse that stands above the other twenty-eight verses we read through. Here it is: Revelation 18:4...
Then I heard another voice from heaven [Christ, cf. 4:1]saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues...”
That's it. That's the point of all of this. Just as Jesus did in His individualized mini-letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, even here He is still warning His people about the reality of and dangers of moral, spiritual, and doctrinal compromise.
And yes, this is a clear announcement of Rome's destruction. But as we've talked about, this is also a message for today; a message for Western culture; a message for America. Listen again: a politically dominant nation or empire, supported by various propagandistic institutions and influencing people and leaders through the promise of pleasure, possessions, position, and power. That rogues gallery is alive and well today. The question, then, is not “To what degree is it real in the present?”, but “To what degree is my life entangled in it?”
Our application last week, in light of chapter 17 was honestly, soberly, and prayerfully attempting to locate Babylon in our own lives, in our own homes, in our own checkbooks and schedules and priorities. I believe this chapter helps us get even more specific about that kind of inspection. So let's do this. Let's use the five parts of this passage to answer the big, overarching question, “Why does God want us to “come out” of Babylon?” Because...
1. When All is Stripped Away, Babylon is a City of Demons (18:1-3)
The first reason God wants us to come out of Babylon is found in verses 1-3 of chapter 18. The description of the angel in verse 1 is meant to get our attention. This is someone to whom we must listen. In verse 2, using language from Isaiah 21:9, we hear of Babylon's future downfall as if it has already happened. But verse 2 not only speaks of her downfall and desolation, but also of her true nature. I like how one commentator expresses this:
“The demonic nature of Babylon is revealed where, contrary to the outward appearance of beauty and glory she projects (17:4; 18:16), she is said to have become a dwelling place for demons and unclean spirits. As her outward glory is stripped away, all that is left are the skeletal remains, surrounded by foul spirits.” (G.K. Beale)
Her actions, her corrupting influence (v. 3), are clearly in line with the aim of the dragon and, as Ephesians 6 describes it, the purposes of “the cosmic powers over this present darkness...the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) In this rogues gallery's first-century work, Paul clearly connects this with idolatry in I Corinthians 10:20, 21...
 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
If Babylon is seducing men and women today, if Babylon is wooing you, then isn't it sobering to realize or remember that supporting her means supporting the work of demons? Like Paul did with the Corinthians, Revelation is all about showing us the true spiritual nature of so many everyday realities we take for granted.
But her corrupting influencers and her corrupting influence lead us to the next section. Christ calls us to “come out of her” because...
2. Babylon Teeters on the Brink of Judgment, Deservedly, But in Denial (18:4-8)
As verse 7 makes clear, Babylon never thinks of herself in terms of loss, only in terms of gain. Of life and not death. But God makes it abundantly clear in this passage that, even though she lives in absolute denial, she is absolutely guilty. Look at how her indictment is laid out in verses 5-7: her sins are heaped high as heaven, she has paid back others with violence, the cup she mixed has corrupted so many, for she glorified herself and lived in luxury.
And in light of all this, God is going to give her exactly what she deserves. Just as she gave it, she will have (v. 7) a like measure of torment and mourning. This is God's perfect justice.
But notice how it will come. It will come (v. 8) “in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.” Verses 10 and 17 similarly speak of her judgment coming in “a single hour.” Does that mean Rome would fall in a literal “hour” or “day”? No, as we've already seen in this book, numbers, including numbers concerned with time, are symbolic. We know from chapter 17, that “one hour” (17:12) is the short time in which the beast and ten other kings turn against her and “burn her up with fire.” (17:16)
The point here is that God will judge Babylon and those entangled in Babylon with such decisive suddenness, there will be absolutely no time to change course. The Roman Empire did not fall in an hour or day. But even if it declined in fits and starts, God's judgment was final and inescapable for those who compromised with the corrupt Roman system. The rest of the NT tells us that God's judgments of the “beast” throughout history are faint reminders of His full judgment to come, a judgment that will literally rain down in an instant. Paul described it this way for the Thessalonians:
For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (I Thes. 5:2-3)
You see, flirting with the world is like going to a party in a house that is teetering on the edge of a cliff. Would you go? Brothers and sisters, friends, if we are too cozy with Babylon, if we are characterized by her compromise, we would be foolish to believe we are not in danger of being swept away in her judgment. She is in deep denial. Are we? But look at how the next section fleshes this out for us. Jesus calls us to “come out of her” because...
3. Those Who Profit from Babylon Will Drink Only Tears in the End (18:9-20)
There are three groups of people described in this longer section. There are the “kings of the earth” in verses 9 and 10, the “merchants of the earth” in verses 11-17a, and finally the seafarers in verses 17b-20. What do all of those groups have in common? They have all profited from the 'prostitution' of Babylon. And it's in these verses that the symbolism of prostitution is best explained. How is Babylon a harlot? Because she will do anything for money. Because she will entice others to get into her bed of sordid gain.
Yes, Babylon is about all kinds of moral and spiritual and doctrinal compromise. But here, the real 'point of her sword', the 'tip of her spear' is absolutely clear: she is drunk with materialism. Just look at that list in verses 11-13. That is not a list of the basic necessities of life. It is a list dominated by high-end goods. Is God railing against trade, commerce, and the enjoyment of beautiful things? No, He is warning us about excess, discontent, greed, and the deceptive promises of possessions.
Just think about what that list might include today: And the retailers of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their products anymore, cars and computers and countertops of marble; tablets and timeshares and take-out, night after night; fashion and 401ks and fountains of chocolate; movies and magazines and mountains of lottery tickets; steaks and stairmasters; desserts and dirtbikes; toys and telephones; Jeeps and Jordans; handguns and handbags; soda and swimming pools; iPads and implants.
And just as that list in Revelation 18 ended with “human souls”, how many “souls” have been crushed and are being crushed under the truck tires of American materialism. How many sweat shops are fed by our appetites? How many have taken their own lives because of financial failure? How many babies have been aborted because they were deemed culturally 'inconvenient'?
Of course, the kings, merchants, and sailors in 18:9-20 have more in common than entanglement with Babylon. In this chapter, they are even more so defined by their loss and lamentations over her destruction. They wail. They mourn. They tremble. Such is the fate of every one of us who lives first for worldly profit. The one who dies with the most toys does not win. He not only loses, he must live with the emptiness of that loss forever. That leads directly to verses 21-24. Jesus calls us to “come out of her” because...
4. One Day, Babylon Will, in Every Way, Be “No More” (18:21-24)
Did you see the repeated refrain in verses 21-23? If the symbolic actions of the angel were not enough to remind them of the words of Jesus in Matthew 18 about being thrown overboard with a millstone necklace, the repeated use of the phrase “no more” has to get our attention. In a culture like ours, one that celebrates “more, more, more.” God's pronouncement is “no more.”
All the things we take for granted will come to an end. You probably noticed that this list is composed of very mundane things: music, industry, weddings. These are items meant to remind us of the everyday rhythm of life. Sometimes that rhythm lulls us to sleep spiritually. We invest in the everyday and neglect eternity. We put off God's work until the next day, and the next day, and the next day, telling ourselves that today is already full. But remember, Babylon's house is teetering on the cliff. It will fall. If we believe that, we will have a sense of urgency about our separation from her.
But it's that final verse of the chapter, verse 24, that points us to the final section. Christ urges us to “come out of her” because...
5. We Should Rejoice in Her Destruction, Not Her Delights (19:1-5)
Above everything else, the picture painted in verses 19:1-5 should grip our souls and clear our heads. In those verses we see the response to the command in 18:20...
“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” (18:20)
And this praise, the double “Hallelujah!” of chapter 19 takes us right back to the cry of 6:10...
[The souls of the martyrs] cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
To be clear, chapter 19 is not God's people gloating. This is not the satisfaction of personal revenge against the world. Again, Beale's comments are helpful in explaining the scene:
“God has defended the honor of His just name by not leaving sin unpunished and by showing His people have been in the right and the verdict rendered by the ungodly world against the saints to be wrong.” (G.K. Beale)
We do not delight in the destruction of those she used to corrupt and those corrupted by her. We rejoice in the destruction of her corruptions and the end of the deadly consequences of her corruption. Babylon has fallen, is falling, and one day, will fall, never to rise again. The smoke of her destruction will go up forever, that is, she will never, ever rise again.
Listen, we have to be brutally honest with ourselves: that which the world system produces and promotes is, no matter how helpful or wholesome it seems, is always tainted by hatred of God, opposition to God. And throughout the centuries, and even today, it finds its fullest expression in the torture and murder of God's people.
You wouldn't throw a house-warming party at a home used for human trafficking, would you? In the same way, we should celebrate the system that fights against God and His people. We should disentangle ourselves in light of God's heart and God's judgment.
III. To the Degree
This morning, we have explored that initial question, “Why does God want us to “come out” of Babylon?” And hopefully, this past week, and even this morning, you've been honest enough with yourself to admit that you, to some degree, must come out of Babylon. Some of us live every day in her suburbs. Some of us find ourselves straddling her boundary line. Others of us have built homes well within her borders. Wherever you are, the call of Jesus is the same: “come out of her, my people.”
So the follow-up question you must be asking is something like this: “How can I specifically know the ways in which I am entangled in Babylon?” And that's a great question. But instead of standing up here giving you a laundry list of things you shouldn't watch, ways you shouldn't spend your time and money, places you shouldn't go, causes you shouldn't support, I think God would rather have me tell you this: Understanding your relationship to the world, to Babylon, is not first based on the degree to which you are consuming with her, but rather, on the degree to which you are satisfied with Jesus.
What defines you more: Hunger for more of her? Or satisfaction with all of Him? And all of Him is what we have through the gospel! What place do contentment and sharing have in your life? To what degree do you seek to be a faithful steward of your time and treasure for God's kingdom? Do you give regularly and generously to God's work in and through the local church?
After the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 AD, the North African pastor Augustine, in his book The City of God, wrote these words in light of the crumbling city of the world.
“God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”
This morning, Christ is calling to you, “Come out of her.” Do you hear Him? Are you ready to respond, genuinely and practically this week? Let's ask him to help us do that.
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